Ball State women's tennis opens the 2017 season looking to repeat as Mid-American Conference champions.

“Our goal is to be playing our best at the end of the year," head coach Max Norris said. "I think if we’re doing everything that we can, and we only focus on the things that we can control, I think the result will hopefully be that we’ll be playing on our home courts on April 30, which is the MAC Championship day. Hopefully we’ll have a shot to win that.”

Head coach Max Norris said the challenge is to keep the Cardinals from resting on their laurels. They finished 22-4 (7-1 MAC) last year, setting the record for most wins in program history, then won the MAC Tournament. At one point, the Cardinals also had a 15-game win streak, and as defending champions they will host the MAC Tournament this season.

"I think it’s a really good thing to let all of our players who are here now, and the people who are coming in the future, know what we’re capable of doing. However, at the same time, we have to move on," head coach Max Norris said. "This year is a completely new year — each team we play is going to be a different team from last year, especially in our league. So we know that we have a lot to prove."

Ball State returns seven players that competed in at least 10 singles matches, including sophomore Peyton Gollhofer and senior Carmen Blanco, who split time competing in the top two flights last season. Gollhofer was named first-team All-MAC and Blanco was named second-team All-MAC.

While the Cardinals are aiming for another championship, Norris said the focus is on improving from week to week, and that process has already started.

"Each one of them, in their own special ways, have shown signs of improvement and signs of maturity," he said. "You know, a player might have thought like, ‘oh, I can get away with this stuff,’ whether it’s a bad practice or a bad match … I’ve seen signs from really all of them that they don’t want those same things to happen."

Ball State won't have to wait long for a challenge, either. It opens its season Jan. 21 at North Carolina — the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's No. 2 team in the country.

But Norris wants the Cardinals to become "a championship program," and the Cardinals will get a good look at one up close Jan. 21 — the Tar Heels have made the NCAA Tournament in 18 consecutive seasons.

"We try to tell the team there’s a big difference between being a championship team and being a championship program," Norris said. "A championship program is a program that can compete for championships every year and is in serious contention every year. The teams are developing each year and the teams are developing each year. They’re not up and down."

The Cardinals kick off their season at 10 a.m. Jan. 21 in Chapel Hill against North Carolina. They follow that with a matchup against North Carolina Central on Jan. 21 at 1 p.m. and another against UNC-Greensboro at 9 a.m. Jan. 22.

Ball State's first home match is Jan. 29 against Dayton.