The quest begins again for the Ball State University women's basketball team.
Coming off their first ever Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship and NCAA Tournament appearance, the Cardinals return to the floor Friday night in Ann Arbor, Mich., against the University of Michigan.
"Our level of consistency to the details of the game, everything from pace of play to making effort on the glass and fundamentals of the game are what concerns me," coach Kelly Packard said. "We're not very consistent, so we will see how quickly we can become consistent and how quickly we can have accountability among the team."
Michigan leads the all-time series 2-1, but Ball State won the last meeting 62-58 last season in Ann Arbor.
Ball State returns three starters from last season's 26-9 team, with forwards Emily Maggert and Danielle Gratton and guard Audrey McDonald. McDonald, a senior, said Ball State's experience will be key in handling playing on the road to start the season as opposed to playing at Worthen Arena.
Individually, McDonald has 16 3-pointers to make before she takes the Cardinals' No. 1 3-point shooter spot. McDonald currently has 238 treys. She also sits 29 points away from becoming the 20th member of Ball State's 1,000-point club.
"It's exciting that we'll be playing a Big Ten team in Michigan, especially for me because I started as a freshmen playing in Michigan," McDonald said. "We know we're going to have mistakes and be anxious to get playing. It comes with the first game of the year, but we'll have to play hard and settle in."
Most likely joining Maggert, Gratton and McDonald in the starting lineup against the Wolverines will be freshman guard Shanee' Jackson and junior guard/forward Ty'Ronda Benning, both of whom have received most of the reps in practice.
"I try not to make a lot of comparisons to Porchia Green and Kiley Jarrett with our guards," Packard said. "I need to be a wise coach in using the same offensive system I have, however, I need to open up some areas of freedom based on Ty'Ronda and Shanee's skill set. They have some really solid skills I can't wait to use and to affirm who they are, why we recruited them and where this team is going with them directing traffic."
While guard play will be important, the battle in the post could prove to be the deciding factor in the outcome of the contest. Michigan boasts a size advantage at center with the 6-foot 6-inch Krista Phillips.
"She's very skilled and actually pretty mobile for her size. I have to believe they will key their offense on her," Packard said. "We don't have anybody who is 6-foot-6. We're going to have to execute help to keep her from catching the ball where she wants to."
A positive for the Cardinals is that Michigan is a youthful team. The Wolverines lost four starters and six letterwinners from a 10-20 team that finished in a tie for 10th in the Big Ten a year ago. Factor in a focus on defense and Ball State could cause trouble for the Wolverines.
"While we are worried because it's Michigan, we can't be too worried about them," McDonald said. "We have to focus on Ball State and what we can do. We're really focusing on defense this year and learning to play with each other."