Rhett Umphress

The gymnastics team will head to Gainesville, Fla., ready for its toughest matchup of the season. Ball State University will face No. 4 University of Florida and the University of North Carolina at 7 p.m. Friday.

"We're going to put on a good show [and] hit everything," graduate assistant coach Will Stokley said. "If you're up, you need to hit [your routine]."

Ball State is coming off its second-best score of the season, a 193.15 in a loss to Kent State University. The Cardinals helped themselves by scoring a 9.6 or higher on 16 of their 20 routines. The 9.6 score is a threshold coach Nadalie Walsh said is the goal for each gymnast's routine. She said she wants to be able to raise that minimum goal to a 9.7 in the near future.

Twenty scores of 9.7 would give the Cardinals a total score of 194, something they haven't done since 2004.

Stokley said the team responded well to last week's performance.

"We had a good week of practice," he said. "We're all gearing towards getting our highest team score [of the year]."

One event in which the Cardinals are still deciding their lineup is the balance beam. Redshirt freshman Julie Cotter has been sick, Stokley said, and may miss her fifth meet of the season.

The Gators (6-2) are ranked in the top six in all four events and have an average score this season of 196.344. Florida comes in with a strong pedigree in gymnastics. The Gators have competed in the NCAA National Championships the last nine years, including a fourth-place finish in 2009.

"This is a great learning experience for the girls to see what we're aiming for," Stokley said.

The Southeastern Conference is a powerhouse in gymnastics. The University of Georgia has won the last five national championships. In all, 14 of the 28 national titles awarded in gymnastics have gone to SEC schools.

This year, three of the top five schools (No. 1 University of Alabama, Florida and No. 5 Georgia) and five of the top 10 (No. 8 University of Arkansas and No. 10 Louisiana State University) are from the SEC.

Stokley, an Auburn University graduate, said the budgets for SEC gymnastics programs allow them the opportunities other schools do not.

"They've got the nice, brand new gym facilities," he said. "They're able to bring in the good kids. They're able to get the latest leotards. They definitely get the perks."

Unlike Ball State, North Carolina (6-3) is a familiar opponent of Florida's. The Tar Heels and Gators compete in the Southeast region during the postseason. North Carolina made it to the Regional Championships in 2009.

In 2009, Ball State and North Carolina faced off in a meet at the University of Kentucky. The Tar Heels defeated Cardinals 194.825-193.35 Feb. 27, 2009. North Carolina outscored Ball State in every event but the uneven bars.

But this is a new year, and the Cardinals have the potential to defeat the Tar Heels. North Carolina is averaging a 193.315 this season, a score Ball State has eclipsed once this year. The Cardinals also outscored the Tar Heels last weekend.

"If we hit [our routines] this meet, then we'll beat North Carolina – definitely,"  Stokley said.

Brittney Emmons, a Florida native, said she is excited for the opportunity to compete in her home state.

"I'm so excited," the sophomore said. "A lot of my family is coming down – mom, dad, grandparents. Pretty much everyone I know is going to be at that meet so I'm very excited to be able to go in front of almost a hometown crowd. I cannot wait; I've been counting down the days."

Emmons will have her hands full in the all-around. She will be facing Florida freshman Ashanée Dickerson, currently ranked No. 5 in the country. North Carolina senior Kara Wright will also compete in the all-around. 

Emmons defeated Wright on the floor last year. They tied on the vault, and Wright won the other two events and the all-around.

One unique aspect of the meet will be the crowd. Florida has averaged 6,790 fans in their home meets this year, almost 3,000 more fans than Ball State men's basketball draws.

"It's a different atmosphere,"  Stokley said. "We'll be in the spotlight – the big show."

Although the lineup is still in fluctuation from week to week due to injuries and resting certain athletes, Stokley said the coaches are well on their way to knowing who the top six gymnasts are on each event and who they will likely go to for the upcoming Mid-American Conference Championships.

After the meet, the team will have a mini-Spring Break in Florida over the weekend, hitting a beach and an amusement park, before returning to Muncie on Monday and resuming practice.