GYMNASTICS: A fond farewell
Five seniors will have last home meet Sunday
The 2010 class of the Ball State University gymnastics team will say goodbye to Cardinal fans and Worthen Arena on Sunday. Ball State will face Eastern Michigan University at 1 p.m. in the seniors' final home meet.
Coach Nadalie Walsh said she's grateful to this senior class for making her transition to Ball State easy.
"I feel like we had a really good relationship, and I'm going to miss that," she said. "This was the hardest working class I've ever had."
Bibiana Rodriguez will leave the Ball State program with several accomplishments under her belt.
Rodriguez has two first-place finishes on the season and nine in her career. She holds a tie for the sixth-best uneven bars performance in school history. She was named to the All-Mid-American Conference First Team after tying for the conference championship last season.
She also qualified for the NCAA Central Regionals last season on the bars and is currently slated to do so for the second-straight year.
Not bad for someone who came to Ball State on a whim.
Rodriguez became a Cardinal after following her brother Jorge, who was a member of the men's tennis team, from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Muncie.
"I didn't really know where I wanted to go, so I just went where he was because it was most comfortable," Rodriguez said.
She said the biggest change to the program has been the marked improvement over the last four years.
"Now when we get [team scores of] 191 or 192 and we're like, ‘Oh whatever, we're better than that,'" she said. "Our freshman years we couldn't get 190."
Walsh said she has been amazed by Rodriguez's development over her career, especially on the bars.
Rodriguez will work on finishing her elementary education degree next year, but her gymnastics career isn't over after the Ball State season. She will compete for Puerto Rico in the Central American Games over the summer.
Last Saturday, Ashley Jacob led the Cardinals on the bars with a 9.725, her season high.
She has led Ball State on the bars one time each year since 2008.
Jacob said she came to Ball State because she wanted to stay in her home state while still being able to compete in gymnastics. Ball State has the only Division I gymnastics program in Indiana.
She said giving up the competition will be a challenge.
"I've done this my whole life," Jacob said. "I don't know what I'm going to do now with all this extra time."
Jacob said she's extremely proud of the development of the team, earning its first three-team meet victory under Walsh and having the most wins in a season since 2003.
Living up to the responsibility of a senior as a role model has been a goal Jacob said she has strived to do. She said she'll miss the team camaraderie and spending time with her teammates, but noted that she will gladly give up all the early-morning workouts.
"I'm just glad I get to be a part of it this year," she said. "I wish I could be a part of it the next few years because people are going to have to watch out for Ball State gymnastics."
Walsh described Jacob as "happy-go-lucky" and praised her ability to balance school and athletics.
As an elementary education major, Jacob has her share of challenges, fitting the image of a true student-athlete. She completed student teaching while training for the Cardinals.
"I'm going to miss her example of balancing the classroom and being in the gym," Walsh said. "I feel like that's a character trait I want all the girls below her to take and value."
Megan Howard is doing her best gymnastics at the close of her career.
She put up two career highs in Saturday's meet at Central Michigan University. She scored a 9.675 on the balance beam and a 9.625 on the floor exercise.
"I've been working hard, so I'm glad it's finally paying off," Howard said. "It's exciting."
Howard has competed on every event in her four years at Ball State. She and Brittney Bauer are the only seniors who can make that claim.
She said her favorite Ball State moment was getting to go back to her home state of Florida to compete in front of friends and family.
Walsh said that one of Howard's traits may have been somewhat under the radar.
"Megan's that quiet, unspoken leader," Walsh said. "Her way about training has been self-motivated and that's been a really big inspiration to everybody."
When asked to give some advice to live by, Howard was able to sum it up succinctly.
"Don't hold back on anything. Live with no regrets," she said.
Brittney Bauer's senior season ended before it began. She had knee surgery after a fall during off-season training.
Although unable to compete, Bauer has smoothly moved into the role as a team mentor and sideline leader.
"My job now is not doing gymnastics," she said. "It's being here for my girls and my team and helping them out in every way that I can. It helps me stay involved and connected."
Bauer said it has been difficult to give up competing. She started gymnastics training when she was 3.
"It's something that is ingrained in me. I grew up doing [gymnastics]," she said. "I don't remember a time when I was not physically training. It's been hard."
Bauer was largely a floor exercise specialist, competing on the floor in 22 of 24 meets during her sophomore and junior years. She had a career-high 9.8 in the event in her first meet of 2008.
The seniors did not originally come to Ball State under coach Nadalie Walsh. Their first coach was Lisa Simonton, who resigned after the class' freshman year. Bauer said the change provided her with a positive learning experience, though.
"I like a challenge and I like a change and learning from a new perspective," she said. "It helped me to grow to have different coaches with different perspectives so I can see and learn new things."
Walsh said Bauer's maturity has been important to their relationship and the team as a whole.
"She's just a rock emotionally. She's somebody that I can always talk to," Walsh said. "She's done so much for the program."
Bauer plans to go on to graduate school to get her master's in international business while also being a graduate assistant coach in gymnastics.
Despite some setbacks, Bauer has relished her Ball State career.
"I wouldn't trade a moment for anything," she said. "I'm so lucky and blessed to have been able to be here."
Laura Shockey has had a different path as a Ball State gymnast.
She didn't know it at the time, but competing on the vault in the 2008 MAC Championships would be her final event.
Shockey missed the 2009 season with knee and shoulder surgeries. Complications from the first shoulder surgery required a second surgery that forced her to miss her senior season.
"I was a little disappointed at first, because you want to make that great comeback from surgery," she said. "But it's really cool to see the coaching aspect and be able to help the other girls out."
She said she thinks this experience has helped her consider going into coaching after college.
The rest of the team is what Shockey said she will miss the most.
"It's like a kind of family now," she said. "The girls on the team, especially this year, have been phenomenal."
But there's one thing she said she won't miss.
"The pain," she said. "There are a lot of hours where you're in constant pain. I won't miss that."
Walsh credited Shockey as an extremely driven person. Walsh said Shockey played a big role in her coaching success.
"When I came [to Ball State] and she was a sophomore, she took to my philosophy right away," Walsh said. "Because she took to it, that's why it's going so well right now. What she's brought [to the team] has been irreplaceable."
Shockey performed on the vault, balance beam and floor exercise for Ball State. She had career highs of 9.65 and higher on the events in her two years of competition.