The Ball State gymnastics team believed whole-heartedly it was capable of, if not victory, a strong finish at the Mid-American Conference Championship last Saturday. Instead, it found itself a seventh place finisher in a field of seven teams. 

The team’s first event, balance beam, brought with it a score much lower than the team’s average. A 46.825 (which could have very easily been a full point higher) kept Ball State from remaining in competition with opposing MAC teams. 

Despite a crippling score to open the day, the team bounced back. In their third of four events, the vault, the Cardinals set a school record with a score of 49.000. This one day, one underwhelming championship performance, was a microcosm of the entire 2013 season.  

A team stacked with talent, full of confidence, and coached by outstanding motivators, was unable to put all of the pieces together. It is important to note, however, that nearly all of those pieces seem to be in hand. 

Of 13 girls that competed at the MAC Championship, six are freshman, and two are sophomores. This makes for a strong foundation to build around in coming seasons. 

The young athletes had an impact, not just on Ball State’s score, but on the MAC playing field as a whole. Sophomore Samantha Santos scored a 9.725 on the balance beam, and her mark of 9.750 on the uneven bars was good for ninth among all MAC competitors. Freshman Denasiha Christian’s 9.850 on the vault was good for third-best overall. 

“If they stay as motivated as they were at the end of this season, they’re gonna go far,” fifth-year senior Brittney Emmons said. “I have been on teams where, we had the talent, but not the dedication. This year, I feel like there’s both.”

Emmons was one of, if not the, most important leaders on the 2013 roster. She gradually improved each week, as she was recovering from a season-ending injury suffered last year, and by doing so motivated her team mates to train at a higher level. 

Though the number of departing seniors is just five, the loss of leadership will be felt in a much larger sense. Assistant coach Chris Bogantes believes that Brooklyn Schumacher, who will be a junior, is a likely candidate to fill those shoes. 

“She is always just super positive, always happy in the gym, always trying to get everyone to do their best,” Bogantes said. “She’ll probably stand out as the team leader as a whole next year.”

If recent years are of any gauge, the program will continue to improve in the years to come. Nadalie Walsh was named coach of the team in July of 2007. The team’s average score in 2008 was 189.292, by 2010 the team was averaging 191.91, and this year’s team – 193.108.

It’s been a steady climb, and they do not plan on stopping now. The team entered 2013 with goals of winning conference, and becoming the first team in over a decade to make the trip to regionals. 

Those goals proved to be out of reach, but the Cardinals are certainly headed in the right direction.