The Mid-American Conference has never tested Ball State women's tennis (7-7, 0-2 MAC) in the way it has so far this season.
Last season, the Cardinals dominated the conference to a tune of an 8-0 record. This season, however, the path to success won’t come so easy. Coming into the weekend, the MAC has all but one team with a .500 record or above, and this success in the conference has head coach Max Norris taking notice.
“I think that every year — at least since I’ve gotten here — you’ve seen teams grow in talent and having some years stronger than others,” Norris said. “Sometimes, [when] you finished the last year a little bit lower in the standings, that adds a little motivation going into the offseason to get you fired up and excited about the next season.”
That motivation that Norris speaks of has shown in a handful of teams in a big way this season, as Bowling Green (10-5, 2-0 MAC) has already doubled its win total from a year ago. Another team that has seen marked improvement is Ball State’s opponent this week, Eastern Michigan (12-4, 1-1 MAC).
The Eagles finished second-to-last a season ago, notching only six victories. A new season has brought new fortunes, as they have recorded 12 wins already this season. One of the biggest reasons for this new success is senior Ani Gogvadze's performance. She is 14-0 in singles play this season.
“In tennis, if you see players like Serena [Williams] or Roger Federer and then look at the people who have played them and been successful, you just have to focus on the day you’re playing them,” Norris said. “You can’t play on the past results … the only thing that is relevant is trying to understand her game style and trying the best you can to combat it.”
With the match against Eastern Michigan being on Friday, Ball State was squeezed into a smaller frame when it came to practice time. Norris has a couple of goals in mind and worked to enforce them in the shortened week.
“The attitude,” Norris said. “We have got to go into the match on Friday looking to play focused, have fun and finish when we get put in situations to finish. … At this point in the season, [with] where you are, you have to make the best of it, rather that be 2-0, 1-1, or 0-2 like us. You have to find a way to be honest with what we are as a team and make the best out of it.”
As far as a single player that he can point to as being a difference-maker on his team, Norris had trouble pinning it down to just one player, seeing it as more of a team effort.
“I think that it’s a difficult question to answer, because everyone plays an important role,” Norris said.
Going into the team's third conference match, Norris wants to leave Eastern Michigan having done a few things differently than they have so far in conference play. He feels this is the next step in becoming who the team wants to be.
“One thing we want to we want to do well [on Friday] is handle some of the things they throw at us,” Norris said. “Rather it be tactics, or things to try and get into your head, or make you lose focus. I just want to look at them and know that they handled that stuff the best that they could.”
Ypsilanti, Michigan, will be the location of Friday’s match, with Ball State hitting the road for its second consecutive match.
The Eagles boast a 6-1 record on their home court, while the Cardinals look to improve on their 3-5 away mark. Doubles play is scheduled for 1 p.m., with singles following right after.