The tables have turned.
The back-to-back Mid-American Conference (MAC) champions Ball State Cardinals (13-3, 2-1 MAC) have been used to having a target on their back over the past two seasons.
However, after Sunday’s loss against the Toledo Rockets (12-3, 3-0 MAC), they’ll be doing the hunting instead of being the hunted from here on out.
The Cardinals defeated Toledo last year in the conference tournament championship. This was a matchup of the conference’s top dogs. There are no excuses to be made, though according to coach Rifanty Kahfiani. The Rockets were the better team today.
“I know it really stinks, but I thought Toledo came prepared,” she said. “They (Toledo) were not waiting around for us to make mistakes. They weren’t expecting us to give them free points, so they earned their points across the board.”
Doubles saw 6-3 losses for the tandems of third-year Masha Polishchuk and fifth-year Allison Mulville, and fourth-year Amy Kaplan and first-year Annika Planinsek.
The doubles point has been crucial for the Cardinals all year. They haven’t lost one since Feb. 10 versus Cleveland State, and have lost just four doubles points all year. They’re now 1-3 in matches where they lose the doubles point. Kahfiani says the way the Rockets held their ground in not just doubles, but singles also was a big reason why they controlled the match.
“They did a great job on holding their positioning on the court,” Kahfiani said. “They didn’t back up or give a lot of space for us, and I think that’s what we need to get better at moving forward. They were using our pace and redirecting the ball pretty well.”
In singles, Kaplan and fourth-year Emma Peeler lost in straight sets where they couldn’t quite get any momentum going. Meanwhile, on court one, Polishchuk had opportunities to extend her match to a third set. She held tight with third-year Cassie Alcala of Toledo but lost 6-4, 7-5. Planinsek lost her first set 1-6, and tried to battle back in the second, but lost a tiebreak 7-1.
The bright spots for the Cardinals included second-year Elena Malykh winning 7-5, 7-5, and Jessica Braun winning a close 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) match.
The Cardinals no longer control their own destiny when it comes to earning the No. 1 seed in the MAC, but there is still a huge chunk of the season left. There are lessons to be learned from your first loss in almost two months.
“All of us, including me, need to do better with making people accountable on the court and off the court,” Kahfiani said. “I just think we let some little details slip coming into this match.”
Ball State will look to bounce back Friday with a home match against Northern Illinois, with first serve scheduled for 1 p.m.