BY SANDRA ELSADEK | Ball State Sports Link
This week the Mid-American Conference announced its operational plan to resume Fall Olympic sports in 2021.
For Ball State Soccer, that means a plan to compete in 10 conference matches in a divisional double round robin format over a six-week period between March 4th and April 11th.
A single-match championship will take place Saturday, April 17th at a campus site (best overall conference winning percentage) between the two division winners to determine the automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament.
Coming off of an extremely successful season in 2019, senior Shelby Kean says the team is ready to “hit the ground running”.
First year head coach, Josh Rife lead his team to 15 wins last season which ties the Ball State school record for most wins in a single season.
Ball State soccer went 15-5 on the year, including a 9-2 mark at home and 9-2 in conference play. The 15 wins tied the program record set by the 2005 Cardinals, who went 15-3-2.
The Cardinals tallied five road wins against league competition and placed second in the league in the regular season standings.
Rife’s side scored twice as many goals as it allowed (34-17) as four players (Nicky Potts, Tristan Stuteville, Sam Kambol and Emily Simmons) earned all-conference honors.
After falling short to Eastern Michigan in the 2019 MAC Quarterfinals, the Cardinals are more focused and determined to get back on the field and dominate.
“We lost the most successful graduating class,” Rife said. “Now, the nice thing is that this next group up is poised to be the most successful graduating class.”
With players such as Maitane Bravo and Alex Deruvo, Rife is confident they are capable of filling the role of recent graduate and accomplished goalkeeper, Tristan Stuteville.
Although the loss of Stuteville, the six-year goalkeeper is undesirable, the team is using this not as a setback, but as an opportunity to provide depth using the team’s talent.
“We gained 10 freshmen this year and the spots that we had lacked in, I feel like we actually gained in, ” senior Tatiana Hawkins-Dabney said. “The depth is honestly insane.”
While being an athlete during a pandemic is quite the rollercoaster ride, the Cardinals will utilize any time they can to familiarize themselves with the 10 freshmen.
“Whether it’s during warmups or water breaks,” Kean said. “I’ll ask questions like how many siblings do you have? Just so I can get to know them a little more.”
Not only does the pandemic cause skepticism to the athletes, but the coaches are struggling with the constant changes as well.
“The hardest thing has been trying to plan for something that we didn’t know when it was going to happen,” Rife said. “Every day that we can be on the field gives them a little more structure and gives us as coaches a little more comfortability.”
Despite the uncertainty, Hawkins-Dabney has helped shine a light on her team by bringing good energy during practice and reminding the team to find the positives in what they are doing now.
“You’re already anxious coming in to a new season,” Hawkins-Dabney said. “You always need someone that is going to be positive. I definitely feel like I’ve been that person for our team, always making sure we’re smiling and joking around.”
Taking things one day at a time is crucial in a time like this.
With the anticipation being built up for so long, Kean described her emotions for when the opportunity comes to step on the field as “bittersweet.”
As an upperclassmen and leader on her team, Kean is determined to help guide her team to a MAC Championship Title … in the Spring.
“We really want to get the ring this year. It’s my senior year, one last opportunity.”
A spring championship is certainly within reach. The Cardinal return 19 players (including four of the team’s top five scorers) who saw action during the record-breaking 2019 season.