There's one thing that the Ball State soccer team is focused on this year – making it to the NCAA Tournament.
It's a goal that has alluded the Cardinals the previous two seasons where Ball State won back-to-back Mid-American Conference regular season championships, but have been eliminated in the first round of the MAC Championships.
It's also the driving force behind the Cardinals new slogan "rise above it" according to senior midfielder/forward Allison Abbe.
"I know the past two seasons we've won the regular season, but have fell short during the [MAC] Championships," Abbe said. "This year we're trying to rise above what happened last year, finish strong and get first."
Last season, the Cardinals just barely missed out on an NCAA Tournament at-large bid after finishing 51st in the RPI rankings. Several other schools missed out on at-large bids last season as well, including five teams who ranked higher than Ball State at the end of the season.
Head coach Craig Roberts says that making the NCAA Tournament is an achievable goal, and the rest of the MAC coaches seem to agree. Ball State was picked to finish first in the MAC West Division and the conference tournament.
"I think we've had that target sitting on us for the past couple of years, so I do think it shows that teams still have a level of respect for us," senior goalkeeper Alyssa Heintschel said.
While Roberts said he was "flattered" that the coaches voted on Ball State to finish first, as soon as the results came out, he told his team "we've done nothing yet."
"We're not interested with what people's statements were made about us, we have to prove what we're all about," Roberts said about the preseason coaches poll. "We want to push past the [MAC] Tournament and get into the NCAA's."
This season, Ball State will be without some of last seasons award winners like Lorina White (MAC Defensive Player of the Year), Leah Mattingly (First Team All-MAC) and Chay McNitt (Second Team All-MAC).
But last years team, who went 14-3-3 overall, didn't just contain veteran talent. Senior goalkeeper duo Tristin Stuteville and Heintschel return along with several 2016 MAC All-Freshman Team selections in midfielder Julia Elvbo, forward Sam Kambol and defender Yela Ziswiler.
On top of that, the Cardinals added nine new freshman to the program in the offseason.
Getting the younger players involved in the program has been a big preseason focus for Ball State. Often times the players and coaches get together for team bonding activities.
"Freshman often times come in sort of shy and nervous and our team bonding activities just really make us bond and get to know each other better," Abbe said. "We're definitely more of a family than other teams and that cohesiveness shows on the field and off."
Sometimes those activities include days on a boat or cycling classes and other times they include a four hour martial arts lesson, an art that Roberts is well-versed in.
"I think preseason training can get very monotonous, so we always try and make it original," Roberts said. "It's a fight, it's basically about how to focus on what you're doing, self-discipline, all of these things that are apparent in the game of soccer. Soccer has a huge psychological and mental part of the game that people underestimate."
It's going to be a fight for Ball State this season as they prepare to play against Power Five programs against Notre Dame, TCU and Baylor this season.
Ball State gets its first chance to see if all of its preseason training paid off Friday at 5 p.m. against in-state rival Fort Wayne.