Rhett Umphress

Three Ball State University gymnasts have two days left to prepare for the No. 1 team in the country.

Coach Nadalie Walsh said her team is ready to compete in Saturday's NCAA Central Regionals in a field that includes top-ranked University of Alabama.

"The girls have great energy. They want it," she said. "They're working extra hard on everything they have already been working throughout the year."

Brittney Emmons (all-around), Bibiana Rodriguez (uneven bars) and Tiffany Brodbeck (floor exercise) all said they are ready for Saturday's meet.

"I feel really confident with everything I've been doing [in practice]," Emmons said. "My skills and routines feel better now than they did two weeks ago."

When the trio gets there, they will face a loaded field in Lexington, Ky. Among the six teams and individual competitors is the No. 1 Alabama, the No. 7 and No. 9 all-around gymnasts and five top-10 gymnasts on individual events.

Even so, Emmons said the team isn't concerned with the level of competition they will face this weekend.

"You want to go out there in front of these big schools and big crowd and show them what you can do, because you're pretty much a little fish in a big pond," she said.

Emmons grew up following Southeastern Conference teams like Alabama and the University of Kentucky, and she said she is looking forward to competing against them this weekend.

Walsh said she doesn't expect the environment of a big meet to distract her team.

"They're not the type of gymnasts [who] don't perform well under pressure," she said. "They do perform well under pressure, and they love an audience."

Rodriguez said she's using the scope of the meet as a motivating factor. She said seeing other athletes perform at a top level is a driving force for her own routines.

"I always like to have something big to strive for," she said. "Not everyone gets to go [to regionals]; just the ones that have really worked and performed well throughout the year, so it's really exciting to be able to do this."

The team has used the two weeks of practice between the MAC Championships and Saturday's regionals to perfect each gymnast's routine, Walsh said. She said that scores have been rising all season, and she expects the same, especially with an extra week of preparation.

One improvement made during the hiatus, Walsh said, is on Brodbeck's floor routine. Walsh said she expected Brodbeck's score to improve after working on the dance aspects of the routine.

Brodbeck said she has used mental preparation to get herself focused. Rather than doing full run-throughs, which can be physically taxing, she said she has been going through the routine in her head a lot, even in her dorm room.

Six teams will compete on Saturday for two spots in the national competition April 24. They are Alabama, No. 12 University of Nebraska, No. 13 University of Illinois, No. 20 Kentucky, No. 24 Central Michigan University and Michigan State University. Individual qualifiers, all from the Mid-American Conference, will be competing as well.

Ball State is concerned only with the individual results. The top all-around gymnasts and the winner of individual events will advance to nationals as well.

Rodriguez, a senior, said she wants her Ball State career to continue for one more meet beyond Saturday.

"I like to think that I have a chance to be in nationals," she said. "Just that thought makes me want to go even harder."

Competing in all the events, Emmons technically has five chances to move on from the regional competition, but she isn't going to use that as a safety net.

"I always tell myself I'm going to go out there and go 4-for-4 in every meet," Emmons said.

Walsh said that last year Emmons and Rodriguez had more of a ‘happy to be here' attitude about qualifying for regionals. This year, the team is more focused on what it takes to qualify for nationals, Walsh said.

"They deserve to be there, and they know it," she said.