Rhett Umphress

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The NCAA Central Regionals were a mixed bag Saturday for the Ball State University gymnastics team, as three Cardinals ended their season.

The day was bookended by strong performances from senior Bibiana Rodriguez and sophomore Brittney Emmons, but a trio of falls in the middle dampened the Cardinals' results.

Rodriguez completed her Ball State career with an 11th-place finish on the uneven bars with a 9.8, improving upon her 28th-place bars finish in 2009.

"I'm really proud," Rodriguez said. "I came out here and did my job."

She said this was a performance she could be proud to call her last as a Cardinal, but she'll miss the experience and the team.

"Four years go by really fast," she said.

Coach Nadalie Walsh said she was delighted by Rodriguez's accomplishments Saturday and in her career.

"She was the beginning of changing Ball State gymnastics," Walsh said. "I couldn't ask for anything more."

Other than Rodriguez, however, the Cardinals saw some struggles Saturday. Emmons finished in 17th in the all-around with a 37.4 — her season-low.

Her score was severely hampered by a stumble on the bars in her second rotation. She was able to manage to stay on the lower bar, but her score suffered nonetheless. She was given a 9.0 on her routine, essentially knocking her out of the all-around competition.

After the bars, Emmons had another fall, this time on the second trick of her beam routine, to score an 8.85. It was her lowest score on the bars and beam this season.

"I can't really say a specific thing [that caused the falls]," Emmons said. "I went out there and just did my best, and that was just a little bit short of what I wanted. … Sometimes the cards don't fall the right way."

Emmons rebounded at the end of the meet on her strongest event, the floor exercise. She scored a 9.85, which was good for 13th place. She also scored a 9.7 on the vault – 35th place – in her first event.

"I had a really good start and finish," Emmons said. "It was a little rough in the middle."

She said she felt more comfortable with the floor and vault — events that she competed in for the 2009 Central Regionals — than the middle events. Emmons said competing in the all-around at regionals will give her experience to put toward next year and the 2011 regionals.

Falling proved to be contagious for Ball State on Saturday. Freshman Tiffany Brodbeck fell in the middle of her floor routine – her first fall on the floor this season – and scored a 9.125.

"To be honest, words can't explain [what happened]," Brodbeck said. "I haven't fallen on that skill in six years. And it just seemed to happen today."

Saturday's meet started at approximately 6 p.m., but Brodbeck didn't perform her one routine until shortly after 8 p.m.

"The waiting was terrible. The waiting was so long," she said.

By contrast, Rodriguez's day was over by 7 p.m. She spent the rest of the meet providing some senior leadership to her underclassmen teammates.

"[After their falls], I told them they didn't need to worry, because they going to be here next year," Rodriguez said. "I'm positive and confident of that."

Brodbeck said the fall was disappointing, but she's going put the mistake behind her and look forward to next year.

"At least I know what to expect now," she said.

Walsh said the experience of competing as individuals is much different than what they were used to through the season.

"They had to come without their team," she said. "They had to learn how to just be here for themselves. They didn't have anybody else to put their energy into."

No. 1 University of Alabama and No. 12 University of Nebraska advanced to the NCAA National Championships with team scores of 197.4 and 195.875, respectively. The Crimson Tide swept every individual title, including sophomore Geralen Stack-Eaton taking the all-around.

Senior Sarah Schmidt, of No. 13 University of Illinois, and senior Nicole Curler, of Michigan State University, qualified for nationals in the all-around.

No. 24 Central Michigan University finished in fourth place and put two on the podium: senior Katie Simon (fifth place in the all-around) and freshman Britney Taylor (fourth place on bars). Simon finished 0.05 behind Curler to miss the bid to nationals.

One unique aspect of Saturday's meet was that Ball State was paired with other schools for its rotations. Emmons spent her day with Illinois and Rodriguez and Brodbeck competed alongside Michigan State.

The Big Ten schools offered cheers of encouragement to the Cardinal gymnasts as they competed, which Emmons said she appreciated.

"It's really cool to be able to have a team, even if it's not your own, have another team that's there to support you," she said. "It's no fun when no one's cheering for you."

Although the rest of the Ball State squad wasn't on the sidelines with the trio, they were in the stands Saturday night, cheering on their fellow Cardinals.

"That says I have a team who wants to all be here next year," Walsh said.

And when do Walsh and the team start thinking about 2011?

"Monday," she said.