For Mid-American Conference volleyball, this is the weekend that the whole season leads up to.

Ball State will look to make a run in the MAC Volleyball Championship next to seven other qualifying teams. The teams will compete for what will likely be the conference’s only bid into the NCAA Tournament.

While the Cardinals have not seen the NCAA Tournament since 2011, their journey begins Friday. Ball State bypasses the first round games on Thursday and awaits the winner of Western Michigan and Central Michigan in the MAC quarterfinals.

“We have an idea that it’s going to be one of two [teams],” Ball State head coach Kelli Miller said. “We recently played both of those guys so that helps to have some familiarity going in. But at the same time, our practices all year have been based on what we need to work on and not so much worrying what the other team is going to do.”

If it’s Western Michigan who escapes the first round, Friday’s game will be a chance for redemption, as the Cardinals lost to the Broncos in the opening round of last season’s tournament.

“There’s definitely some rivalry there,” sophomore defensive specialist Kate Avila said. “They beat us last year and we remember that, we don’t forget it, so we go in no matter who we play there’s going to be intensity and fight because of last year.”

But if it is Central Michigan, Ball State may have its hands full. The Chippewas were the last team that defeated the Cardinals, and won four of their last five games to finish the regular season.

In that matchup on Oct. 27, Central Michigan rallied from 2-0 deficit to beat Ball State in five sets, dominating the decisive final set.

Avila received conference defensive player of the week honors for the second straight week for her 25 and 24 dig performances over the weekend. Junior outside hitter Ellie Dunn led the team in kills.

Last weekend marked the first appearance of the season for true freshman setter Ali Finch, who replaced sophomore setter Amber Seaman who did not play.

“I think Ali [Finch] did a great job,” Miller said. “She got [the ball] to our hitters and got us into a rhythm really quick. She was delivering just really great balls. We spread it out well so we weren’t just going to one hitter or two, we had a very balanced offense and I think that helped.”

But no who matter starts for the Cardinals, Miller feels confident in the offense’s abilities.

“We just have so many moving parts,” Miller said. “That has just been a strength of ours is our depth, all year. We have used a variety of people in a variety of spots and the setter position is no different.”

All matches of the tournament will take place at Millett Hall at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

First round matches start Thursday at 4 p.m.

Ball State faces the winner of Western Michigan and Central Michigan at 7 p.m. Friday. The winner will then move on to play Miami on Saturday evening.

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