Ball State women’s tennis enters the spring portion of its season on the road this weekend. After the success they had last year, the Cardinals hope to improve even more. 

The Cardinals accomplished a feat that no other team in the past had when it finished conference play with an undefeated 8-0 record last season. An achievement like this tends to lead to a successful ending, however, a shocking first-round loss in the Mid-American Conference tournament ended their season.

But that just left them with bigger goals for what lies ahead as they face Northwestern.

“I think [Northwestern] lets them see that this is the level that we can see in the NCAA Tournament, and from here on out we’re going to play teams that aren’t at this level … if you want to win a round, you have to be at the level of a school like Northwestern,” head coach Max Norris said.

With lofty expectations of earning an NCAA Tournament berth this season, Ball State will test its strength right off the bat against Northwestern, a Big Ten powerhouse that made the NCAA Tournament last season. 

While how the team will compete this season is still a mystery, one thing that the team aims to lean upon is the leadership and experience of the upperclassmen. The team is made up of senior Julia Sbercia and four juniors in Audrey Berger, Isabelle Dohanics, Peyton Gollhoffer and transfer Sarah Swiderski. 

“All of [the upperclassmen] were instrumental not only with their play but with their attitude, and they kind of started a new energy, a new climate in the program,” Norris said. “Even with Sarah, she has played the one and two spots at a college level. I think that between the five of them, you’re definitely looking for steadiness and for them to be good role models and stay consistent for the other players that don’t have as much experience.” 

Players that Norris would like to see gain experience this season are sophomore Rebecca Herrington and freshmen Victoria Sec and Lilya Hadab. 

“It’s going to be something they have to work at everyday,” Norris said. “You’ve lived a certain way, you’ve trained a certain way, you’ve done things a certain way their whole lives and now you’re at a new program. There’s a part of staying true to who you are, but there’s also a part of assimilating to a new program. It’s always good to have new people who are buying into what you’re doing, but they are also bringing something different and challenging the experienced players.”

In it’s 2018 nonconference schedule, Ball State will also see elite teams in Valparaiso and Dayton. Come March, the team will open up conference play against Miami, a team all too familiar to them as the Redhawks ended the Cardinals season last year. 

“It wasn’t that we didn’t care about the match, or that we didn’t try,” Norris said. “We hosted the tournament, we were the number one seed and we won the doubles point in about 20 minutes. It wasn’t like we were lacking or anything, it’s just sometimes that’s the way things happen.” 

However, with recent success under its belt the past few years, the foundation the Cardinals have built, along with the developing players, could call for another winning season. 

Ball State opens its nonconference slate against Northwestern in Evanston on Saturday at 11 a.m.

Contact Chance Iles with comments at cwiles@bsu.edu