Ball State gymnastics stuck the landing in their 2024 season opener by making history. At the first competitive meet of the season, Ball State received a score of 194.925, the best opening-meet score in program history, and the highest score at the UNC Quad Meet.
The Cardinals, a Mid-American Conference (MAC) program, competed on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC)’s campus against schools in three different conferences, including UNC in the Atlantic Coast Conference; Rutgers University in the B1GTEN Conference; and Utah State in the Mountain West Conference.
Despite Ball State’s high outcome, the final scores for the meet were close. UNC came in second with a score of 193.725. Rutgers followed with a 193.400 and Utah State finished last with a 192.375.
Ball State’s head coach Joanna Saleem said she was excited about the win to start off the season, especially with the nerves that can come with a season debut.
“It was super loud and [there was] lots of energy in the room, and to see the team be resilient and finish all the way through, we had a lot of really good things that happened today,” she said. “We had a couple things that were a little uncharacteristic for us, but we didn't let those mistakes get in the way.”
Saleem said she tried to prepare the student athletes for nerves and distractions in the gym during practice, and she thinks the Cardinals' ability to handle that is what helped them stand out in the meet.
Along with the high-scoring win, the MAC named the Cardinals, as well as Central Michigan, as the preseason favorites to win the conference Gymnastics Championship. Sophomore Zoe Middleton and junior Grace Sumner were placed on the Gymnasts to Watch list.
Both competed in the meet Friday, where Middleton participated in all events, and Sumner partook in bars and beam.
Middleton’s highest scores were in vault and floor, with a score of 9.850 for both. Sumner received a 9.775 in bars and a 9.025 in beam.
While Saleem didn't downplay the importance of scores and wins, they weren’t her focus for this meet. She said she wants her gymnasts to chase performances, not scores.
“It's a long season,” she said. “We have a lot of really talented student athletes in the MAC, and we've got some really competitive teams, and we're gonna need to take it one step at a time.”
Since it’s still early in the season, Saleem plans to work on reflecting, fine tuning and having fun.
Ball State’s highest event score was in vault with an overall score of 49.150. Senior Suki Pfister led the team with a 9.925. Floor was the second highest event with a 49.025, and bars followed with a 48.825.
She said while everything will need to be refined and cleaned up, she was pleased with how vault and bars went overall.
The lowest event score was beam with an overall score of 47.925. Saleem called beam “the great equalizer for every program.”
One of the highlights of Saleem’s night was getting to watch the freshmen at their first competitive match. This included getting to watch Lindsay Fuller stick her routine on beam.
“As a freshman, first routines are awesome whenever you do well,” Fuller said.
Fuller, Ava Molina and Ashley Szymanski were Ball State’s only freshmen to compete at the Quad Meet. Fuller ended with a 9.725 on beam, Molina had the same score on floor and Szymanski received a 9.825 in bars.