After a 13-18 finish in 2016, the Ball State women’s volleyball team takes the court again as they travel to Bloomington to take on Indiana this Friday. It was a productive off-season for the Cardinals, who are returning 15 of their 18 players from the season before. But in many ways, head coach Kelli Miller sees potential in the team’s three newcomers.

Freshman outside hitter Kia Holder from Valparaiso, Indiana headlines the incoming freshmen, who hope to add a fresh spark while complimenting the experience of the team’s returners.

She also impressed coach Miller at Saturday’s Red/White scrimmage game.

“Holder was just on fire attacking out of left side; every time she hit the ball, she found a way to put it to the floor, so I thought she really stood out at the Red/White scrimmage, and she’s done a good job in the backcourt," Miller said. "She provides a very positive presence, and I think she’s done a nice job as well."

Other freshman include Avery Brown and Ali Finch, and the Cardinals are also bringing back two seniors: Jessica Lindsey and McCallen Kennedy.

That means the vast majority of Ball State’s lineup consists of sophomores and juniors, including defensive specialist Kate Avila and outside hitter Brooklyn Goodsel, who were some of the Cardinals' top producers in 2016.

“I think the biggest thing is that we have a different maturity—we have some experienced players coming back, and so just different intent on how we can approach practice. We have a little bit of a higher level of intensity in practice just because those people know what to expect now,” Miller said.

As a freshman in 2016, Avila made an instant impact by leading the team in sets played with 126, while Goodsel is second to Avila among returning players with 117 sets played a year ago. Goodsel also leads returners with 346 kills in 2016.

Miller said the experience that Avila and other returners gained in the back row has been one of the biggest improvements she has seen in the team since last season.

“I definitely think we’re more physical, so I think we’ve really been working in the weight room to hit the ball harder, definitely more blocking presence,” Miller said. “I think defensively, so our back court defense has definitely improved. We have some experience in those back row players now so I thought our back court defense has definitely improved since last spring.”

It will be a quick start for the Cardinals, who open the season at the Indiana Invitational, taking on the Hoosiers this Friday before playing a doubleheader against Indiana State and DePaul the next day.

The followingweek, Ball State gets to see opponents in Muncie for the first time, hosting Navy, Bradley and Fort Wayne, which will also be playing each other. After a quick stop at IUPUI on Sept. 5 and a pair of tournaments, the Cardinals will then begin MAC play on Sept. 22 when they travel to Eastern Michigan.

But before the bog of the season starts up, Ball State fans had a chance to see the team at the Red/White scrimmage, which coach Miller said was good for the team. 

“More so than anything, [the Red/White scrimmage] just gives you a trial run before you go out and play your real match when it means something next Friday,” Miller said. “When you have new people, there’s always going to be jitters and the more that you can just play and develop that chemistry and play in front of crowd with your jersey on, it just allows you to feel more and more comfortable each time that you get out there.”

In the week before the season begins, the Cardinals are working on improving their passing and setting, which coach Miller was not impressed with over the summer in practice.

“Our passing is not up to where it needs to be,” Miller said. “I think that’s one thing we got to make sure that we’re laying that ball in there consistently for the setter. Then I thought our setting was pretty inconsistent. We got to make sure we’re kind of filtering two and three different setters and we’re going to find the one that keeps us in rhythm and get our offense going more consistently.”

The team’s regular season schedule runs through Nov. 11 when the Cardinals finish MAC play at Western Michigan, which caps off a three-game road stretch to conclude the season.