Rhett Umphress

The Ball State University gymnastics team is preparing for its toughest meet of the season thus far when it faces Kent State University this afternoon.

Kent State, the reigning Mid-American Conference champions, has won the title the past two years. Ball State is an up-and-coming program, currently going through the best season of coach Nadalie Walsh's three-year tenure.

Walsh said that the team is not worried about the opponent, but instead on its own success.

"We're focusing on doing our part and not being emotional, meaning not letting mistakes bother us," she said.

The Cardinals and the Golden Flashes will square off at 1 p.m. in Worthen Arena.

Ball State is more than halfway through its regular season, and the wear and tear of the sport has started to take its toll on the gymnasts. Walsh said she may rest some gymnasts so they are in peak shape come the MAC Championships.

"We may rest a couple people, just because that's what's best in the big picture," she said. "It's kind of heartbreaking not to put who you want out there in the here and now. But we have to do what's best in the long haul."

One such person who will be a game-time decision is redshirt freshman Julie Cotter.

"We're kind of on a fine line of ‘Is she ready? Is she not?'" Walsh said. "Either way, she'll be back out there soon."

Ball State is coming off its first meet win of the season, defeating Illinois State University and Texas Woman's University in come-from-behind fashion. Sophomore Brittney Emmons said the victory has given the Cardinals momentum heading to today's matchup.

Emmons will be a part of a key matchup Sunday when she competes with Kent State juniors Christine Abou-Mitri and Christina Lenny in the all-around. Abou-Mitri is the leading gymnast in the MAC this year and the conference's current Gymnast of the Week.

Emmons said she has been working on cleaning the details of her performance – straighter knees, more well-pointed toes, etc. She also said that sticking her vault landing this week has been a priority.

"All the little things add up to the big picture," Emmons said.

For sophomore Kayla Kmiecik, this meet brings a school from near her home to Worthen Arena.

Kmiecik grew up in Avon, Ohio, about an hour from Kent, Ohio. She said that Kent State was on her radar when picking colleges. She knows several of the girls on the team and said she looks forward to competing against some familiar faces.

She is coming off her best performance of the season, with scores of 9.55 or better on the uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise.

"To have a good meet like I had last weekend is a confidence booster," Kmiecik said. "Gymnastics is 90 percent mental and I think that's it is key to know that you can do the gymnastics you're training to do."

If Ball State wants to think upset, avoiding mistakes will be essential. Ball State was able to connect on six routines on both the vault and floor in last week's win.

"We just need to go out there and do what we know how to do," Emmons said. "We always have one little mess up here, one little mess up there. But we know we're capable of…getting those high scores."

Walsh said the team has focused on confidence on the beam this week in practice. Last week, the Cardinals had only one fall on beam, but scores across the board were lower.
The beam has been trouble for Kent State as well. In its victory last week against Northern Illinois University and Rutgers University, the Golden Flashes had clean routines across the board in the vault, bars and floor. The beam was the problem area, where they had three falls.

Although Ball State is a big underdog, the team is more focused on its own performance as it works toward qualifying individuals for the NCAA postseason, Walsh said. She said the first priority is to get the highest team score of the year, raising its Regional Qualifying Score.

Walsh said she's happy with where the team is in terms of its RQS at the moment, especially since many of the lower scores should be replaced in the next few weeks.

"I look at the rest of the season as five more opportunities to get the best team score possible," she said.