Nov. 3, 2019.
After a 2-1 loss to Eastern Michigan in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, the Cardinals’ season had just ended. Little did they know, they would not take the field against another program for 16 months.
However, that layoff ended Thursday afternoon. Ball State (1-0 MAC) defeated Toledo (0-1 MAC) 2-0 in its 2021 regular season opener.
“It was fantastic,” head coach Josh Rife said. “I know the players were excited. You could sense their energy, their focus kind of ramping up throughout the week. I think for me, as a coach, there's a little bit of that good anxiety you have not felt in a while.”
The Cardinals scored both goals in the first half. The first came at the 19th minute, when senior defender Shelby Kean punched in her first career goal off an assist from junior defender Lexy Smith.
The second goal came just a few minutes later at the 25th minute from junior forward Tatiana Mason.
While the offense was exceptional, Rife said, he believes the defense was even better, and the Cardinals’ performance on that end of the ball helped secure the victory.
“I think we feel good walking away on both sides of the ball,” Rife said. “Across the board defensively, as a unit, we were really good. I think Tatiana’s goal was a product of good defense — the higher field participating and picking the ball off the final third. Our press is something we've been working on, [and] we can generate opportunities from our defense.”
The Cardinals had the upper hand on the Rockets in every statistical category. Ball State attempted five shots on goal while holding Toledo to just one.
Ball State will return to action Sunday, March 7, on the road against Central Michigan (0-1 MAC) at noon. With an adjusted schedule due to COVID-19, Rife said, this will be a quick turnaround many players have not experienced before, but he believes his team is built to withstand the short time in between games this season.
“One of the strengths of this team for a number of years now has been depth,” Rife said. “Walking away from this game, we were able to go pretty deep into our roster and get minutes for certain individuals...Whether you played every minute or you did not play one minute — or somewhere in between — you have to be ready.”