Rhett Umphress

Fans who follow the Ball State gymnastics team will have to learn some new names this season.

"Almost half our lineup is new faces," coach Nadalie Walsh said.

This season's roster includes eight freshmen, a transfer junior and a senior who returned to action after missing all of 2010 due to injury.

The freshmen have matured quickly in the new environment, Walsh said.

"Sometimes with a freshman class, they can cater to the thought or the lie in their head that ‘Oh, you're new. You're not going to know how to do this,'" she said. "They're not like that. They know what they're doing."

With so many new Cardinals on the team, there is going to be competition for the six spots in each event.

"Everybody has that same goal in mind, where it's ‘I love you, and if you ever need anything, I'm here. But I'm going do everything I can to get my spot on an event,'" said MaryAnn Oehlerking, who came to Ball State this season after two years at Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

"Good teammate competition has made our team really successful so far."

Walsh said she thinks the battle to earn spots on the roster each meet will help push the team and lead to better gymnastics.

Although the Cardinals were picked to finish fifth in the Mid-American Conference, junior Brittney Emmons said the team still has goals to win the conference and go to regionals.

"We're very capable of doing it this year," she said.

One key to competing in the MAC will be avoiding mistakes and not having to count falls. In Ball State's first meet of the season, they were on their way to achieving that goal, hitting 17-of-18 routines through the first three events.

Emmons fell during the floor exercise — something that hadn't happened in a meet since February 2009 — and Walsh said it rattled the team's confidence.

"After the team saw Brittney fall on floor, they were unable to shake that off," Walsh said.

The Cardinals had three falls on the balance beam and lost to Pittsburgh by 1.525 points.

Going into the season, one difference that will play to Ball State's advantage is its health.

"We're on the upswing of people coming back. It's the reverse of other years where we were having to protect people," Walsh said. "I really made it a point with our trainer, Jen Skidmore, to protect [the gymnasts] up until this point so they can be useful now."

Emmons will be looked to as the team leader this season. She competed in regionals in the all-around last season, and Emmons said she wants to bring the whole team this year.

Being a leader and working with the incoming gymnasts have been positive experiences, Emmons said.

"I think all the girls really looked up to us, and we were able to show them how things work," she said. "They really took what we said and portrayed it."

Other Cardinals that will have high expectations placed on them are sophomores Tiffany Brodbeck and Nicole Allen. Brodbeck made it to regionals in the floor exercise last season, and Allen led Ball State with two first-place finishes against Pittsburgh on Friday.

During the Winter Break, Walsh and her team watched routines from some of the top schools in the country via YouTube, which she said helped the gymnasts understand how close they are to the upper echelon.

"They're able to watch and look at the other girls' routines on other teams and be like, ‘Oh, we're just as good,'" Walsh said. "I think that's been a really good confidence booster for them."

With one meet under Ball State's belt, Walsh said she has a good grasp of where to take the team during this week's practice.

"It's always great to get somebody's else opinion on what we watch every single day," she said.