Rhett Umphress

Ball State gymnastics is preparing for a raucous atmosphere this weekend.

Heading up to Mount Pleasant, Mich., for the Mid-American Conference championships Saturday, the Cardinals know they will be dealing with hostile territory.

"It's just a whole different experience, especially with the cheering and how loud it gets in there. It's just draining — mentally and physically," sophomore Morgan Coslow said.

The last time Central Michigan hosted the championships, more than 2,100 people were in attendance — three times the largest crowd Ball State has performed in front of this season.

Six freshmen regularly compete for Ball State, so the upperclassmen have been trying to relay the experience to the newcomers.

"I think that the most we can do for the freshmen is tell them what it's like and hope they can prepare for most of it," Coslow said.

With a fourth-place finish during the MAC regular season, Ball State will start on the uneven bars, similar to a typical away meet.

"Bars is not our strongest event," coach Nadalie Walsh said, "so I think it will be great just to do it. I think they'll be sufficient and do a really nice job."

This also means the pressure falls on Coslow to get the Cardinals started in the right direction, as she will kick off the meet for her team.

"I'll be the first person up, so that's kind of exciting to get to start the team off. I always enjoy doing that," Coslow said.

Another variable in the meet is the frequency of breaks. Whereas in a dual meet the Cardinals would compete one event after the other, Saturday's meet is more spaced out. They will have byes during every other of the seven rotations.

In order to compete at a high level, the Cardinals will have to channel their energy appropriately throughout the meet. In preparation freshman Mackenzie Pacovsky said practice this week has been more intense in an effort to recreate what the team will face this weekend.

Ball State is going to be chasing Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Kent State in order to move up the standings Saturday. All three of those teams are slated to qualify for the NCAA regionals. But in a single meet, Walsh said anything could happen.

"We have a lot of girls who are on the brink. If they do well at conference, they could qualify [for regionals]," she said. "It is really all coming down to the conference meet for not just us, but for everybody."

Walsh said the team is capable of hitting all its routines, but she would be happy with five quality routines in each event.

The Cardinals bring in a pair of gymnasts with the potential to take an individual title. Junior Brittney Emmons is the No. 6-ranked gymnast in the conference in the all-around and the floor exercise. Sophomore Nicole Allen is No. 7 in the all-around and tied for second on the vault.

The Cardinals' postseason hopes as a team are dashed, but several individuals could solidify their placement in regionals with a good meet. Emmons and Allen seem safely in as all-around competitors, and there are several Cardinals who could leap over the competition to qualify in individual events — most notably, freshmen Aftyn Siemer and Amber Mirski on the floor.

Walsh said the Cardinals need to find an inner motivation to drive them to their best meet of the season in the championships.

"I just want them to be more excited," she said. "... I just want them to hit their best routines."