Ball State sending most gymnasts to regional competition since 1999

Head coach Joanna Saleem talks to some of the gymnasts in between events during the meet against Townson on Jan. 17 at Worthen Arena. DN PHOTO BREANNA DAUGHERTY
Head coach Joanna Saleem talks to some of the gymnasts in between events during the meet against Townson on Jan. 17 at Worthen Arena. DN PHOTO BREANNA DAUGHERTY

Teams competing in Iowa City Regional

1 - No. 1 Oklahoma

2 - No. 12 Nebraska

3 - No. 13 Arkansas

4 - Iowa

5 - Kent State

6 - Central Michigan

Ball State will be sending the most competitors to the NCAA Regionals in the program's history, barring the team’s 1999 performance.

The 1999 season was different, however, since the Cardinals qualified as a whole team. This time, four individuals and two alternates qualified with individual season scores.

“It’s really exciting to see that the hard work has been paying off for the last couple of years,” head coach Joanna Saleem said. “Being able to see such a large group of them go, it really helps to make the team motivated and set the bar higher.”

Saleem will travel to the University of Iowa with senior Denasiha Christian, junior Sarah Ebeyer and sophomores Baylee Bell and Jordyn Penny. Senior Erin Patchey and junior Kayla Beckler will also travel as potential alternates.

As an individual, a gymnast must finish atop the rankings in an apparatus to advance to nationals.

Following the second-place finish at the Mid-American Conference championship, there was a surprise in the gymnasts who were selected.

Christian assumed her season was over since she sat out the previous two meets coming into the MAC championship with knee problems, but her teammates had another mindset.

“Some of my teammates said, ‘No, we knew you were going,’ and I had no idea,” Christian said. “I didn’t really know until after the fact.”

At the MAC championship, Christian finished as both the floor and vault champion, the same two events she will compete in at the Iowa City Regionals.

Ebeyer, who will be competing in the same two events at regionals, had a similar reaction following the conference championships, where Ball State finished right behind her sister’s school, Eastern Michigan.

Two days after the meet, Ebeyer woke up to a text that said she had an opportunity to perform at regionals.

“You mentally switch gears in your head and say, ‘OK, now we’re getting ready for next season,'” Ebeyer said. “It’s right back to where you were. … We’ve tried to keep the same mentality we had trying to prepare for MAC.”

Ball State has been to Iowa before — in 2015, it came in third place in a tri-meet against Iowa and Michigan State. While there is familiarity with the gym, Ebeyer doesn’t believe any one of the girls can prepare for the energy surrounding the competition.

“I’m not sure you can really prepare for that,” she said. “Having your mentality in the right area, I’m going there to do a job, and afterwards I can freak out and soak it all in.”

Since qualifying, the tempo in practice has been “relaxed but still fun,” Ebeyer said, and the rest of the team who didn’t qualify are still showing up.

“Those who didn’t qualify are looking and saying, ‘Wow, right here they are [qualified], and if I had just done a little bit more I could be too,’” Saleem said.

With the success the 2016 season brought, the team is already looking forward to build upon its success next season.

“I want to open up some eyes and get some more publicity for Ball State,” Christian said. “The mindset is there, and I feel like everyone is super hungry.”

Ball State will begin regional competition beginning at 4 p.m. April 2 at the University of Iowa.


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