Ball State (14-3, 3-1 MAC) is in a different position than in previous years. After losing last Sunday against conference-rival Toledo, the Cardinals no longer own the top spot in the conference standings.
This week was all about how the team would respond to adversity. After a sweep of the Northern Illinois Huskies (11-11, 1-3 MAC) Friday, the Cardinals’ focus is reset as the conference season heads towards the home stretch.
“From the first practice (this week), I told them to be more physical. We had three great practice days,” coach Rifanty Kahfiani said. “Looking back at Toledo, we were playing not to lose. That’s the mindset that they (the team) did a great job of changing.”
Having that aggressive mindset is something that Kahfiani says can carry you a long way, even if you end up losing certain points. It showed up in a big way, across the board Friday.
The doubles point began with fifth-year Allison Mulville and third-year Masha Polishchuk cruising to a 6-0 win on court two. Not too far behind them was the pair of fourth-years Emily Desai and Jessica Braun, who recorded a 6-1 win on court three. The Desai-Braun duo has won their last three completed doubles matches, and are using their experience to their advantage.
“We’ve been kind of reading each other's mind a bit and understand where we are on the court,” Braun said. “We do a good job of setting each other up, because both of us are very strong at the net. We’re having a lot of fun together.”
Braun used that momentum in singles play, where she got a 6-1, 6-3 win at third singles. Meanwhile, Mulville was inserted into the singles lineup, where she got a 6-2, 6-0 win on the sixth court. Polishchuk and second-year Malykh picked up straight-set wins, while fourth-year Amy Kaplan needed to get a first-set tiebreak to win her match in straight sets. First-year Annika Planinsek needed to go the distance for her match on court four, but she won 6-3, 1-6, 6-2.
Kahfiani said she wanted her team not to get pushed around and pushed back. She wanted to set the tone early and be the aggressor early. So when asked if she felt like the Cardinals executed that, it was a resounding “yes” from her that didn’t need any explanation after that. They took care of business.
It’s possible that Ball State will be chasing the Toledo Rockets for the rest of this season in the conference standings. Kahfiani is trying to preach to her team to control what they can control.
“I’m just keeping it week-by-week, day-by-day, just staying present, and focusing on what we can do better,” Kahfiani said.
As for an experienced player like Braun, she’s trying to keep everything in perspective and take the lessons learned from last week's loss through the rest of the season.
“We’re used to every team coming at us, and we saw that last Sunday against Toledo,” Braun said. “It opened our eyes that we need to be on it, and have a sharper start to our matches.”
The Cardinals will hit the road Sunday for a match against the Eastern Michigan Eagles, with first serve scheduled for 1 p.m.