Ball State University’s colors are Cardinal red and white, with their uniforms presenting this palette. But at the Ball State gymnastics meet on Sunday, a gold ribbon could be seen in most of the gymnasts’ hair, and it wasn’t by chance.
This gold ribbon was added in support of Lindenwood University’s Gymnastics team. In December 2023, Lindenwood announced that this would be the gymnastic team’s final season. Although Lindenwood is a school the gymnastics team has competed against in the past and who will be in the Tennessee Collegiate Classic with the Cardinals next week, the team decided to voice their solidarity at the Ohio State Tri-Meet.
“Gymnastics is valued, and there is a purpose behind what we’re all doing,” Ball State head coach Joanna Saleem said. “Having the ability to come and be a student athlete at the NCAA is a valued experience.”
Having a supportive community is a strength of Ball State and something that could be seen through the cheers and high fives given at the meet, despite it being the place where the Cardinals had their first loss of the season.
The Cardinals fell to Ohio State University with a score of 195.650 to 197.150, following the meet at the Covelli Center in Columbus, Ohio.
Ohio State, who is No. 9 in the country, has not lost a home meet since the 2022 season. Despite this, Ball State and Ohio State are now both 1-1, with Ohio State losing to Louisiana State University in their first meet on Jan. 5. Along with the Buckeyes, the Cardinals faced Towson University, beating them by .525 points, and putting themselves in second place overall.
The Cardinals started the meet with their lowest score of the event, a 48.425 in beam. This was the second lowest scored event of the meet, with Towson falling behind in the same category and ending with a 47.750.
“We need to not be distracted by the things that are going on around us or the things that are going on inside our heads,” Saleem said. “It's really about just letting yourself have the confidence in the training that you've done and showing them to have fun with your group and keeping your focus on us as a team.”
This is something Saleem tried to remind her gymnasts after each rotation. As the event went on, Ball State’s scores improved, and they finished their last event with a strong score of 49.1, the highest overall score for bars.
With beam being their lowest result, Saleem is hoping to take the few days the team has before their next meet to focus on absorbing landings and attacking takeoffs.
“It's still early in the season, and this is a time for us to grow,” Saleem said.
She wants the gymnasts to take this time to learn and get experience under their belt. She said there won’t be perfect days, but having the ability to course correct is the goal. Although the gymnastics team did not get first in the meet, the team still had the highest scores in two events: bars and vault.
Senior Victoria Henry received the highest score in vault with a 9.975, which is her career best in vault. She is now tied for the second best vault score in Ball State’s program history. To receive this achievement, Henry performed a Yurchenko 1.5 – a round off into a back handspring, followed by a series of twists into a blind landing – and stuck the landing.
Henry was happy when she stuck the landing, but her first thought wasn’t about how well she did, it was to squeeze the new toy chicken the team’s strength coach had given the girls as a sort of prize. Henry told herself if she stuck anything, the first thing she would do is squeeze the chicken named Bawk.
“It would’ve been great to get the 10, but I’m looking at the positive side of it,” Henry said. “I still beat my record today, and it gives me more motivation to break it even further.”
Henry performed in every event, scoring highly in floor with a 9.9 and finishing off bars with a 9.75 and beam with a 9.7. With it being her final year in gymnastics, Henry wants to come out of the year as someone who has grown, both as a gymnast and as a person. When Henry has been struggling or not giving it her 100 percent, she has been using the motto, “Ball out, and go all out.”
“It just reminds me to not hold back, to just go give it your all and have fun,” she said. “It just helps me get out of your head.”
This mindset has paid off for Henry, as she was named Ball State’s MVP of the meet. To create a supportive environment for the team, girls are designated big and little sisters. Henry is the “big sis” of Ashley Szymanski, a freshman exercise science student from Wayne, Indiana.
She received the highest score in bars for the Ohio State Tri-Meet, with a 9.9. This is an increase from her score of 9.825 in the previous meet.
“You’ve got Ashley, a freshman, winning events at a Big Ten school, that shows something,” Saleem said.
One of the focuses for the girls this meet was to stay in the “Ball State bubble” and to support each other while not letting themselves get distracted. To stay focused, Szymanski picks a song and sings it to herself to keep herself in a good mood. For this meet, it was “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey.
Szymanski’s experience with college gymnastics has been much different from ones she has been with in the past, and she said it’s because of how much the team is like a family. Not only does Szymanski have Henry as her big sis, but she also has another mentor she can go to: junior Grace Sumner.
Along with many other students, Szymanski participated in wearing a gold ribbon to support Lindenwood. She said because the gymnastics community is so close-knit, everyone knows everyone.
“When something like that happens, kind of like how this team supports each other, we support the gymnastics community together, and just being able to show that was great.”
The Ball State Gymnastic team’s next meet will be the Tennessee Collegiate Classic at 8 p.m. ET on Friday, Jan. 19 in Lebanon, Tennessee.
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