Rhett Umphress

The 2010 season for the Ball State University gymnastics team was one of development, and the beginning of a transformation into an upper-level program.

That's how coach Nadalie Walsh characterized the season. She said the transformation mainly occurred in the mindset of the Cardinal gymnasts.

"I had a group of girls that weren't sure if they were capable," Walsh said. "Now they are sure of what they can do."

Prior to Ball State's exhibition meet against the University of Kentucky in December, Walsh was asking herself "Where are we as a team?" She said she now has the answer to that question.

"I feel like I finally have the team that is going to train hard in the postseason. They're not going to let themselves take any steps back," she said. "[A lack of offseason development] has been our biggest detriment over the past years."

Ball State finished ranked 43rd in the country, seven spots and 1.22 points outside of qualifying for NCAA Regionals. Walsh said improving vault start values and adding another challenging tumbling pass is going to be instrumental in making up that difference.

"We're set on our other events," she said. "Vault is the main thing that's keeping us from the 194 [point] threshold."

After a rough start, scoring a 187.425 in the season opener against Western Michigan University — which Walsh called a "disappointment" — the team rebounded to improve its score by more than 5.5 points during the second half of the season. The team broke the 193 barrier in four of the final five meets.

By comparison week-to-week scores, the Cardinals would have defeated the Broncos in six of the last eight weeks of the season. Walsh said she wants to avoid scheduling Mid-American Conference opponents at the start of the season.

Walsh said her most memorable moment was Ball State's rebound in the second week of the season, a more than five-point improvement to 192.85 in New Hampshire.

"The girls were so focused," she said. "It clicked; it was the lights come on moment."

Ball State scored a 193.925 against Illinois State University on Feb. 5, the highest score in Walsh's tenure and the best since 2004. The Cardinals' six wins were the most since 2003.
Athletics director Tom Collins said he is happy with the progress the team has made both this year and during Walsh's three years as coach.

"I think we've taken steps up, and I think Nadalie continues to bring in good student-athletes," he said.

Walsh said the Illinois State meet was probably Ball State's best this year, but that the Cardinals did not have their best floor exercise routines that day.

"We really didn't have a meet where we hit four events," she said. "We just weren't as consistent as we need to be."

The team is healthier than last year, Walsh said. Although the team did lose four gymnasts for the season due to injuries and surgeries, the core of the team remained healthy and there are no offseason surgeries scheduled.

The team also dealt with the loss of sophomore Ellie Carrico, who left the team in February. Senior Megan Howard largely filled the gap left by Carrico on the balance beam.

Now in the offseason, workouts have been reduced to eight hours per week. Walsh said the gymnasts have to take the initiative to continue to their development on their own time as well.

"It puts a lot on their own shoulders. How bad do they want it? How hard are they going to work?" she said. "This summer, when they're not in our gym, at our school, are they going to be in their own gym, at home, holding themselves accountable?"

Walsh said the work ethic has to be self-motivated.

Walsh added that she would like to see sophomore Kayla Kmiecik breakthrough in offseason training.

"I would like to see her be able to put everything together that we know she's capable of," Walsh said.

Recruiting is the other aspect of developing the team for 2011.

Along with gymnasts who have the ability to compete right away, Walsh said she is looking for recruits who fit within the team's dynamic.

"Their personalities have to fit the team and my personality," she said. "I found that when someone's going against the flow, it disrupts what we're going for."

Kayla Hani and Leah Wilson signed letters of intent in the fall to join the team. Additional recruits will be announced later this week.