Ball State's fall schedule is a road full of talented Mid-American Conference rivals, elite non-conference opponents and NCAA tournament contenders.
And that's just the way coach Steve Shondell likes it.
"The tougher competition that you play, the better you're going to become," Shondell said. "The MAC is going to be tougher than it's probably been in its history this season. We really felt like we wanted to be battle tested before we go into the war in the Mid-American Conference."
Ball State released the women's volleyball 2011 schedule this week with a collection of experienced and accomplished squads lined up throughout the year.
Big Ten opponents Purdue and Michigan State headline the portion of non-conference matches to open the season.
"Anytime you play anyone from the Big Ten, you look at those matches as being real marquee matches," Shondell said. "We have to look at those two matches as real measuring sticks on how we match up with, what will be next year, two of the premier teams in the country."
Following its non-conference schedule, the Cardinals will begin MAC play with a shot at revenge.
Ball State will play against Toledo, which eliminated Ball State from the conference tournament last season, in its first MAC match at home on Sep. 22.
With many of the best teams in the MAC, including Ball State, retaining their core players, it will be a challenge for any team in the conference to separate from the rest of the pack.
"Toledo proved last year by beating us, Western Michigan, (and) the University of Michigan that a team that could finish sixth in the MAC West could still be a very good team," Shondell said.
Ball State will open the season at home against Loyola on Friday, Aug. 26.
Injuries and illnesses are hitting Ball State's players hard this summer.
Middle blocker Kelsey Brandl suffered a second-degree sprain and a stress fracture in her foot last month, according to Shondell.
Shondell said Brandl's recovery process is going smoothly and she should be ready to practice by August.
In addition, outside hitter Whitney Heeres is fighting mononucleosis while several other players are battling sicknesses of their own.
"We're so lucky that we're in the early portion of the summer, because if we were in the season right now, we'd just be decimated by everything that's been going on in the last couple months," Shondell said.
Ball State Active Ankle Challenge
Aug. 26 vs. Loyola-Chicago 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 vs. IPFW 2 p.m.
Aug. 30 at IUPUI 7 p.m.
Marriott Volley Brawl at Valparaiso
Sept. 2 vs. Evansville 2 p.m.
Sept. 3 vs. Murray State 2 p.m.
vs. Texas A&M - Corpus Christi 7 p.m.
Purdue Active Ankle Challenge
Sept. 9 vs. Western Carolina 4 p.m.
Sept. 10 vs. Jackson State noon
at Purdue 7:30 p.m.
Spartan Invitational at Michigan State
Sept. 16 at Michigan State 7 p.m.
Sept. 17 vs. Sacred Heart 10 a.m.
vs. Virginia Commonwealth 5:30 p.m.
Mid-American Conference play
Sept. 22 vs. Toledo, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 at Akron, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 vs. Northern Illinois 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 vs. Western Michigan 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 at Central Michigan 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 at Eastern Michigan 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Ohio 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 at Kent State 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 vs. Miami 7 p.m.
Oct. 22 vs. Bowling Green 7 p.m.
Oct. 27 at Toledo 7 p.m.
Oct. 29 vs. Buffalo 7 p.m.
Nov. 4 at Western Michigan 7 p.m.
Nov. 5 at Northern Illinois 6 p.m.
Nov. 10 vs. Eastern Michigan 7 p.m.
Nov. 12 vs. Central Michigan 7 p.m.
Mid-American Conference Tournament
Nov. 18 Quarterfinals TBA
Nov. 19 Semifinals TBA
Nov. 20 Championship TBA
Nov. 26 vs. St. Louis TBA