Last season, the Ball State gymnastics team fell just short of a Mid-American Conference championship, losing to Eastern Michigan by less than a point. 

While five Cardinals moved on individually to regionals last year for the first time since 2013, the entire team is looking to take that step as MAC Champions this season.

“As a team they are focusing on winning MAC and qualifying for regionals as a team,” head coach Joanna Saleem said. “They have some pretty lofty goals, which they’re very capable of accomplishing. As a coach, it’s my job to remind them that happens by focusing each day and making sure we don’t beat ourselves by winning our routines.”

Ball State took the first step toward that goal after beating No. 16 Northern Illinois 194.175-193.475 in its first conference meet of the year.

Last season's second--place finish was the highest finish since winning the MAC championship in 2002, and it set a high standard for this year.

“We really broke a lot of barriers last season and truly built this program,” senior Sarah Ebeyer said. “The accomplishments of last season really made us more noticeable amongst the bigger schools. Seeing that we were capable of catching the eye of other schools last year, we really want to build off of that this year.”

While Ball State's season record stands at 1-2, the team has already experienced facing off against big competition in then-No. 22 Illinois and then No. 6 Missouri. 

That first tri-meet ended with two losses for the Cardinals but the team said it took away how to bring that same energy into MAC competition.

“It was exciting for them to compete against some big schools and do well,” Saleem said. “I think they knew that it was a bit of a missed opportunity that if we had done a bit better we could’ve beat one of them. It’s was good for them to start off this way going into MAC competition because they know they need to be a bit better than last meet.”

Early in the season, the team has found success in each of its events. In the meet against Northern Illinois, Ebeyer finished with a 9.800 in the vault and freshman Bri Slonim matched her previous performance with a 9.775 and a third-place finish.

On the floor, senior all-around Kayla Beckler finished first with a final score of 9.850. She also finished first on the beam with a 9.800. On the bars, junior Jordyn Penny finished in second with 9.825.

Even with the early success, Saleem looks to have the team polish and refine their events in future competition.

As the season gets in full swing, the team's mindset is abolishing last season ideas of “what ifs” and going forth to accomplish the teams set goals of winning MAC and advancing onto regionals.

“We don’t want to say ‘we were almost the best’ and ‘what if we would’ve done this,'” Ebeyer said. “We don’t want to be that team that almost won, we want to break down every single barrier that stands in our way and know that we can cross the line.”