The Ball State gymnastics team celebrates Jan. 17 during the match against Iowa. The team returns to action on the road against Northern Illinois on Jan. 24. DN PHOTO JONATHAN MIKSANEK
GYMNASTICS: Ball State building around young roster
It’s all about progress for head coach Joanna Saleem.
Final scores have been underwhelming through three meets this season, but the Ball State gymnastics team is just getting started.
“Now that we’ve built some confidence and learned to compete as a group … we just have to make the transition from the gym to the competition floor,” Saleem said.
Saleem served as a volunteer coach at Ball State last season. Now, as she takes the reins in her first season as head coach, the program is making changes.
One of the most notable adjustments has been the adaptation of a big sister, little sister program. The team’s roster features 15 underclassmen to just eight upperclassmen.
Saleem said she hopes to draw leadership out of the team’s veterans to keep the young competitors on track.
“The upperclassmen are a phenomenal group of young women,” she said.
Some serve as vocal leaders, while others bring a quiet confidence to the floor. Senior Leah Wilson competes on one event, and she does it consistently.
Wilson tallied scores of 9.400 and 9.550 on the balance beam in the team’s last two meets.
Junior Brooklyn Schumacher serves as one of the team’s vocal leaders. Though she has fought through an injury early this season, she continues to be a supportive voice for teammates.
“We have those intense young women, but we also have the quiet ones that come in and just do their job,” Saleem said.
For Saleem, getting the young competitors to embrace the competitive attitude of the veterans is a key.
The big sister will work toward a team with “no sloppy turns, no walking away and no heads down,” Saleem said. She wants quality, not quantity.
Though a bulk of vocal leadership comes from the team’s upperclassmen, young athletes are producing at a high level.
In the team’s win over Iowa, four freshmen competed in Ball State’s lineup. The resulting 189.975-188.875 victory will be important to the Cardinals as the team moves forward.
Saleem said the match was the first in which the team didn’t “fall apart” in any single event. It also was a win against a Big Ten opponent. She feels both of these factors will provide a confidence boost for her team.
“We were a little inconsistent,” Saleem said. “We had to get some events similar to what we had [against Iowa] under our belts.”
Day by day, as she focuses on the little things, Saleem said she hopes to build something big.
“It’s my program, but its theirs, too,” she said. “You’re going to have the strength of the seniors in two or three seasons saying, ‘No, we can’t accept that’ or ‘That turn isn’t good enough.’ It’s that internal driving force.”