Cardinals finish with top score in every event during home meet victory

Senior Suki Pfister smiles at the end of her floor routine while the Cardinals cheer for her against Bowling Green Jan. 22 at Worthen Arena. Pfister scored a 9.900 on the floor. Kate Tilbury, DN
Senior Suki Pfister smiles at the end of her floor routine while the Cardinals cheer for her against Bowling Green Jan. 22 at Worthen Arena. Pfister scored a 9.900 on the floor. Kate Tilbury, DN

The excited screams of high-pitched little girls filled the air at the Ball State Gymnastic team’s first home meet of the season. Ball State’s unofficial cheerleading team could be seen standing in the front row of the bleachers, responding to different performances, with extra cheers for high-scoring routines from seniors Suki Pfister and Victoria Henry.

Although only one-fourth of Worthen Arena was filled, the energy was high. The Cardinals competed against Bowling Green State University, and the Squishmallow-themed night brought in plenty of stuffed-special guests. 

Head gymnastics coach Joanna Saleem brought two Squishmallows with her, a small dog and a giraffe. She was excited about the fans’ enthusiasm and that they got involved in some of the gymnasts’ cheers.

“That really makes it exciting for our athletes to perform whenever there's people in there just enjoying what they're doing,” she said. 

After being on the road for the past three meets, Saleem said it was helpful for the gymnasts to be at home, even if it just meant getting to sleep in their own beds. 

From the very first event, Ball State led the night. The Cardinals started on vault with an overall 49.100 points, and Bowling Green followed on bars, earning a 48.675. The gap in scores only continued from there, with Ball State scoring 196.600, while Bowling Green only earned 193.200 total points. 

Despite Bowling Green’s loss by more than three points, the support from their team was one that could be compared to Ball State’s. Even for lowing-score routines, high fives and huddles from the competitors followed almost every performance. 

Saleem said the determination and the camaraderie of her gymnastics team is one thing that makes them stand out. The girls are able to stay focused and be aggressive while still having fun.

“They're just a really great group of young women,” she said. 

Ball State finished the meet with the top two highest scores in every event. Although there weren’t any perfect scores like the previous meet, freshman Ashley Szymanski earned a 9.975 on bars and was named the MVP of the meet. 

Both Pfister, who earned one of the three 10.000s at the Tennessee Collegiate Classic Friday, and Henry scored 9.900s on floor. 

Pfister said while it felt good to receive a perfect score, it did add a little pressure on her. She was able to handle it well because of her experience on the team. The psychology major will be graduating in May, so this is her final gymnastics season. 

“I’m just giving it all that I’ve got honestly,” she said. “I’m just going with the flow. I’m not trying to be anxious or stressed.” 

Pfister said one of her goals before graduation is to compete as an all-around gymnast. She is working on it but is unsure if it will happen. She performed on vault as well and finished with a 9.875. 

The gymnasts struggled with a few shaky landings and some imbalance, but Saleem said it was a solid meet overall. 

“I am pleased that, having two meets in one weekend, they did really well with that,” she said. “I’m excited for us to have next week off and work on some of those landing positions and just getting a little bit more detailed work done in the gym.”

The Cardinals do not return to competition until Feb. 4, but they will remain at home, hosting Kent State at 1 p.m.

Contact Lila Fierek with comments at or on X @LilaFierek.


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