Conference play brings about a new mindset, and a new set of goals. Coming off back-to-back conference titles, Ball State is looking to three-peat.
It all started Saturday, with a 7-0 sweep of the Western Michigan Broncos (9-4, 0-1 MAC). Ball State (12-2, 1-0 MAC) has now won ten matches in a row dating back to Feb 3.
Fourth-year Emma Peeler has seen a lot of battles in her time as a player, but she knows how important it is to keep a clear mind coming into a new season.
“Every year is a new team, and every MAC season we start from scratch,” Peeler said. “We have our credibility, but it really means nothing.”
The doubles point wasn’t easy to come by, as third-year Masha Polishchuk and fifth-year Allison Mulville dropped their first doubles match 6-1. The Cardinals needed to claim the other courts, and they did just that.
The fourth-year tandem of Emily Desai and Jessica Braun earned a 6-3 win on court three, while fourth-year Amy Kaplan and first-year Annika Planinsek dominated court two with a 6-0 win.
Rifanty Khafiani continues to fill in for head coach Max Norris, who remains on paid administrative leave. She likes the consistency she’s seen from doubles as of late.
“For doubles, we’re a very aggressive team. We’re scrappy,” Khafiani said.
Singles play saw some courts move quickly, and other courts having to grind out critical points.
Braun was dominant at her usual fourth singles spot, winning 6-1, 6-0. Mulville also took care of sixth singles with a 6-0, 6-4 win.
Polishchuk had a back and forth affair in her first set, winning it 6-4, but then cruised to a 6-1 win in the second. It was quite the opposite for Kaplan though, as she dominated her first set 6-1, but even after being up 5-1 at one point, had to win a 7-6 (7-2) tiebreak in the second to claim the match. Peeler also came through after losing her first set. She won the second, then won a third set tiebreak.
All three of them are upperclassmen who have been in plenty of MAC matches. Even after Kaplan and Peeler switched singles positions, Peeler said the experience on the team is the reason the Cardinals can do that and not miss a beat.
“That’s one of the great things about our team is that everyone is ready to go anywhere at any time,” Peeler said. “We have that mindset going into it that we don’t care where we play, we don’t care who’s playing around us. We know that everyone on the team is capable.”
Each of them had to make mid-match adjustments in order to win. Executing that in college tennis is easier said than done, but it’s a major factor in how a particular match plays out. A coach can be out there telling the players how to adjust if some things are easy to spot, but it’s on the players to recognize how they are playing as well.
“Starting this year, they [the players] are more aware when they have to adjust,” Khafiani said. “It’s about awareness. Sometimes a coach is not there. They’re somewhere else. At the end of the day, if you wanna be great, you have to be aware of making adjustments.
Planinsek closed out singles play with a 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (7-5) win to give Ball State the sweep.
The Cardinals have now won ten matches in-a-row, but more importantly, started conference play on the right foot. One of the themes that a lot of the players have talked about this year is how close everyone is with each other. Peeler believes that’s what has carried their win-streak in the non-conference, and what will carry them as they start conference play.
“We feel really connected to each other. We feel like one big unit, so I think that’s something that’s been pushing us to those wins,” Peeler said.
Khafiani described the fight and love they have for each other as “very special,” because it doesn’t matter who they play, they’re going to bring their best.
Ball State will continue conference play Friday, with a home match against the Buffalo Bulls at 1 p.m.
Contact Caleb Zuver with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zuves35.