From behind the line: Cardinals' historical season not over; there's more to come

All types of season records have fallen and milestones have been passed by the women's basketball team. Be it individual records - such as Shala Crook breaking the assists record, or Johna Goff tying the record with eight 3-pointers hit in a game - or team milestones - such as a record 21 overall wins, 13 Mid-American Conference wins and going undefeated at home for the first time - the team has reached new heights.

All these noteworthy accomplishments pale in comparison to what the Cardinals achieved in Tuesday's win over Toledo. By beating the Rockets in Toledo for the first time in 15 years, the Cardinals won their first MAC West Championship and became co-MAC overall champions, earning a No. 2 seed in next week's MAC Tournament in Cleveland, Ohio.

Coming off the most successful season in Ball State women's basketball history, the Cardinals are aiming for qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, which the team would qualify for if it wins the conference tourney.

The team's history in the tournament, however, is not as star-studded as this year's season has been. Last year was a prime example of the way the Cardinals have performed under pressure as the No. 3-seeded Cards fell to No. 6 Miami (Ohio) in overtime in its first game of the tourney. The team's defense couldn't handle the post play of the RedHawks, and couldn't hit a clutch shot to save its life.

Nonetheless, this year's team is completely different, even though the cast is the same as last year. First-year head coach Tracy Roller has implemented something her predecessor, Brenda Oldfield, could never manage - defense.

The Cardinals relied on their defense to shut down Toledo in the second half after they began to struggle on offense, just like they have all season. Roller has instituted a full-court press that has posed problems for the opposing guards, as time after time the Cardinals steal passes at half court after playing the passing lanes perfectly.

Still, even the most talented groups of players often fail because of conflicting egos and bad attitudes. Never before, however, have I seen a team with so many stars care so little about their stats. Tamara Bowie is the reigning MAC Player of the Year and has seen her numbers go down significantly from last year, but she could not care less. She said all she wants is for her team to win.

That unselfish attitude, combined with the best bench in the MAC, has led the Cardinals to be one of the most close-knit teams I have seen.

By no means am I predicting the Cardinals to walk away with the title. I'm also not saying they're going to lose. When it all boils down, it won't be the Cardinals' run-and-gun offense that wins them the coveted title or the hype they bring to a game. It's going to be the play of the bench coupled with the defense. You know the old cliche - offense wins games, but defense wins championships.

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