Rhett Umphress

The youthful Ball State University gymnastics team goes west for the second straight week when it travels to face Illinois State at 7 p.m.

Coach Nadalie Walsh said one key goal for the team is to execute on the final rotation. The Cardinals have lost three meets this season in which they led after the third rotation, including last week against Northern Illinois University.

"We have to perform well on the last rotation," Walsh said.

This will be the first meet of the season for Ball State not on a Sunday. Walsh said that she thinks the short week will not affect her team, adding that the gymnasts have been efficient in practice to be prepared for the meet.

She said Ball State has added some new, challenging skills to its repertoire for tonight's meet. Adding these skills should help to boost the team's overall score once they are clean.

The Cardinals (3-4, 0-2 Mid-American Conference) are looking to even their overall record as they face off against their third Midwest Independent Conference opponent this year. Ball State finished second in the Cardinal Classic, defeating the University of Illinois-Chicago and falling to Southeast Missouri State University.

This is the final home competition in a five-meet homestand for the Redbirds (4-2). Against common opponents – Western Michigan University and Southeast Missouri State – Ball State is 0-2 and Illinois State is 1-1.

Sophomore Ellie Carrico should return to the Cardinals' lineup tonight. She competed on the floor exercise in the first three meets of the season, but missed the meet against Northern Illinois. Walsh said she expects Carrico to compete on the floor as well as the balance beam.

Leadership has been a mixed bag for the Cardinals so far this season. In all, nine gymnasts have led the team in at least one event.

"I feel like that's extremely encouraging," Walsh said. "It makes sense because we haven't put it all together yet. Any of our girls could win an event [Friday]."

Despite the parity, sophomore Brittney Emmons is still the de facto leader of the squad. She has six first-place finishes so far this season.

Emmons will be challenged in the all-around by junior Erica Schick, the reigning MIC All-Around Gymnast of the Week. Freshman Apollonia Barrientos also won the MIC Specialist of the Week for her performance on the floor, uneven bars and vault.

Despite their records, Ball State and Illinois State have similar statistics this year. The Cardinals have the better high score of the season, but Illinois State has a 0.8 advantage in average score.

Ball State should be favored in the floor, but the meet could come down to the bars. The teams' average score on the bars are the closest in the four events.

The Cardinals last faced the Redbirds in 2008, losing by more than three points. The two squads will square off twice this season with the second meeting Feb. 21.