In the first-ever matchup between the two, Ball State (1-0-4) fell to Vanderbilt (4-0-3) by a slim 1-0 decision Thursday evening. The Cardinals matched the Commodores’ aggression through the first 86 minutes of competitive action, rendering their Southeastern Conference (SEC) host scoreless for the bulk of the match.
However, a Vanderbilt goal with just 2:58 remaining in the second frame dashed the red and white’s hopes of victory.
“Obviously, the loss is disappointing, but I think we have to look at the positive side of it,” senior Avery Fenchel said. “We've put together a lot, and I think we showed a lot of what we've been practicing this year so far, and I think this was one of our most complete games.”
In spite of the late goal from the Commodores, Ball State head coach Josh Rife will leave the Vanderbilt Soccer Complex with confidence in the Cardinals after what he called an admirable performance.
Rife said Ball State posted a more narrow result than it did against Notre Dame (3-0) and Texas Tech (4-1) due to a number of tactical and technical adjustments made since.
“Defending in the box was significantly better than it's been,” Rife said. “I think our defensive compactness from front to back as a team was better than it's been. I think those are just some areas that we really spent a lot of time working on. I think our composure on the ball was better.”
Although an untimely goal slipped past her supervision, junior goalkeeper Bethany Moser enjoyed a fine evening between the posts, which kept the red and white within striking distance. The Mason, Ohio, product tallied four saves, one more than her total in Ball State’s last outing against Loyola Chicago.
“I think you're continuing to see her just get better and better, and so I think credit [goes] to her [and] credit to the rest of our goalkeepers pushing hard to get better,” Rife said. “She's making some difficult saves look more routine, and I think that's what you want to start seeing.”
A firm Vanderbilt back line stymied the Ball State offense for the majority of the night, but junior forward Lexi Fraley broke free for a number of offensive chances deep in the Commodores’ half of the field, logging a pair of shots.
Also providing an offensive spark was senior defender Ryann Locante, whose well-placed shot in the 69th minute nearly provided the Cardinals with a late lead.
By squaring off against Vanderbilt, a squad which garnered votes in the most recent national coaches poll, Ball State has now competed against a trio of Power Five programs. Rife felt that the Cardinals’ challenging non-conference slate, full of opponents that “will expose you,” will pay dividends when they enter Mid-American Conference (MAC) play.
“You don't get a chance to hide (against top competition),” Rife said. “It forces you to have to take a hard look in the mirror, and it's not always easy. But, we know what we can do, and we have a direction on how to get better.”
Fenchel echoed her head coach’s sentiment, underscoring the value in strong competition from a player’s perspective.
“I think one of the important things about (non-conference play) is playing tough competition [It] just puts you at more of an advantage when the season starts,” Fenchel said.
The Cardinals return to the pitch Sunday, Sept. 10 at 1 p.m. to take on Austin Peay (2-4-1) at Briner Sports Complex in Muncie . Not only will this be Ball State’s final home game of the non-conference slate, but it will also be the Cardinals’ Senior Day.
Six seniors will be honored prior to the Sunday matinee matchup, and Rife expressed his gratitude for their efforts in recent seasons.
“I think to commit to something for four years, and [to] continue to stay with it, I think it speaks so much to them,” Rife said. "They've been to two conference finals appearances in the last three years. Those things aren't easy to do to have sustained success.”
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