Ball State places second in Mid-American Conference Gymnastics Championships; Cardinals take home three individual awards

<p>Ball State cheers for their fellow teammates as they perform floor March 23 at the Mid-American Championship at Worthen Arena. Ball State scored second in floor overall. Andrew Berger, DN</p>

Ball State cheers for their fellow teammates as they perform floor March 23 at the Mid-American Championship at Worthen Arena. Ball State scored second in floor overall. Andrew Berger, DN

Ball State hosted the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Gymnastics Championships Saturday, March 23, at Worthen Arena for the first time since 2016. More than 1,700 fans showed up in support of the seven MAC teams that competed: Ball State, Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Kent State, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan. 

Going into the meet, Ball State was 14-4. Kent State (13-8) and Western Michigan (12-7) were the Cardinals' biggest threats. In overall college standings, Ball State was ranked No. 35, while Kent State was No. 23 and Western Michigan was No. 39.

Kent State, along with Ball State, had been named a MAC Regular Season Co-Champion, however, Ball State previously beat Kent State twice this season, whereas Western Michigan was the only MAC team the Cardinals lost to. 

It was an intense showdown as the schools performed each of the four events within seven rotations. Each team showed up in sparkly leotards, the Cardinals wearing their new 'Legend leos' with 'Dancing Charlie' on their arms. Ball State fed off of the hometown energy, but the results turned out similarly to the Cardinals’ regular season. 

Ball State fell to Western Michigan again, 196.525-196.475, while beating out the other six teams in the MAC. 

Despite the loss, head coach Joanna Saleem was proud of the way the gymnasts competed. Although the Cardinals placed second, they were the only team to receive 49.000 points or higher in every event. 

“It is challenging when you have a meet, and it’s this close,” Saleem said. “You have to take those losses with a grain of salt.” 

While there were mistakes made that held them back from the win, Saleem said having struggles is a part of gymnastics, and nobody wins a championship by themself. 

Freshman Ashley Szymanski said even before the team found out the results, they said they already won no matter what happens, because they performed the way they wanted to. 

“We may have gotten second, but we’re grateful, and we did our gymnastics,” Szymanski said. “We had fun together, and it was incredible.” 

Despite the loss, Ball State had many highs at the MAC Championship, including winning a handful of individual awards, as senior Suki Pfister was named MAC Specialist of the Year for the third season. Sophomore Zoe Middleton left with four awards: first for beam, first on floor, third on vault and first for all-around with 39.525 total points.

Middleton didn’t win the award, but she was also nominated for MAC Gymnast of the Year. 

“I could’ve never expected the season I had,” she said.


Sophomore all-around Zoe Middleton flips during her floor routine March 23 at the Mid-American Championship at Wortthen Arena. Middleton scored a 9.900 for floor. Andrew Berger, DN

Middleton found it easier to compete in Worthen because she knew her friends and family were there in support, and she enjoys performing for them. She was especially proud of her performance on beam since it isn’t usually her highest-scoring event. 

Szymanski won two awards: MAC Freshman of the Year and first place on bars. She is the first player in program history to earn this honor. She was also the only freshman to earn a spot on the All-MAC First Team for 2024. 

“All of the people behind me supporting me this season in my first year, it’s all for them,” she said. “It’s just a testament to how much they support me and how much they care. I’m probably going to go cry about it later, because they’re amazing.” 

When Szymanski had a strong performance on beam, which earned her 9.875 points, Saleem was the first person to give her a hug. 

At the awards ceremony, Saleem was named MAC Coach of the Year for the third time. Saleem said, to her, the award is a representation of the Cardinals' success. The gymnasts were happy to cheer Saleem on as she took the stage. 

“That woman deserves everything she earns,” Szymanski said. “She is the most hardworking, compassionate, kind person I’ve ever met.”

Now that the MAC Gymnastics Championships are over, the Cardinals are looking ahead to regionals. 

Ball State will find out when and where it will compete in the NCAA Regionals Monday, March 25. The Cardinals will also find out who will be moving onto the individual competition. 

Rotation 1 - Floor 

The Cardinals started off strong in the first round of the MAC Championships, ending with a 49.250 point total. 

Ball State was the only team to earn two scores of 9.900 or higher for the first rotation, with Middleton and Pfister leading floor at 9.900. 

Senior Hannah Ruthberg started off as the one of the four first gymnasts to perform at the MAC and the first on floor. She had a good performance, resulting in a 9.700, but it was a bit shaky, and nerves seemed to be a factor. 

Her routine was not counted in the final total of the event for Ball State, but it was much stronger than the other teams’ lowest-scoring gymnasts that round, which were between 9.600 and 9.500. 

For the first rotation, Kent State earned 49.050 points on bars, Northern Illinois had 48.875 points on vault and Central Michigan received 48.650 on beam.

Rotation 2 - BYE

For the second round, Ball State was on bye, but the teams performed as follows: 

  • Western Michigan earned 48.825 points on the bars.
  • Eastern Michigan received 48.850 points on the vault. 
  • Kent State had 48.800 points on the beam.
  • Bowling Green earned 48.975 points on the floor. 

Rotation 3 - Vault

Ball State was in the lead after the third round with a total of 98.275 points after two events, and the Cardinals ended vault with 49.025 points.

Vault was a strong event for the Cardinals, but it was not their best performance this season. Middleton led the event with a Yurchenko full that resulted in a score of 9.900 points. 

Graduate student Megan Teter performed a front pike and had the second highest score on vault. Her form and firm landing earned her 9.850 points. Her team was very supportive, giving her big cheers and high fives after the routine. 

Pfister and senior Victoria Henry both gave good performances, but they had shaky landings with bent knees. Pfitser still gained 9.725 points for the team, but Henry’s 9.675 was not included in the round total. 

Earlier in the season, Pfister got her first perfect 10.000 on vault at the Tennessee Collegiate Classic, and Henry had a high 9.975 at the Ohio State Tri-Meet.

Ball State still did well and had the third highest score of the rotation, with strong competitors on beam and floor. Western Michigan earned 49.050 on beam, and Central Michigan had the same score on floor. Northern Illinois received 48.625 total points on bars. 


Senior all-around Suki Pfister strikes a pose during her floor routine March 23 at the Mid-American Championship at Worthen Arena. Pfister scored a 9.900 for her floor excersise. Andrew Berger, DN

Rotation 4 - BYE

For the fourth round, Ball State was on bye, but the teams performed as follows: 

  • Bowling Green earned 48.850 points on the vault.
  • Eastern Michigan acquired 48.875 points on the bars.
  • Northern Illinois received 48.125 points on the beam.
  • Kent State had 48.975 points on the floor.

Rotation 5 - Bars

Szymanski struck again on bars. The Fort Wayne native led the team with a 9.925, the highest score given to the Cardinals at the MAC Championship. 

Szymanski’s turns and strong landing helped her achieve the outcome. It was all smiles and hugs from Ball State after her routine.

The second highest bars score came from Ruthberg with 9.850 points. Ruthberg used a springboard to start on the highest bar and had good form and a powerful routine. She only had a tiny hop on her landing. 

Teter’s routine was the score not included in this rotation. While the senior had a strong routine, she missed the bar during a jump and had to get back on. This resulted in a score of 9.900. She got back onto the uneven bars with confidence and ended with a beautiful landing. 

Ball State earned 49.200 total points on bars, tying them for the second highest score of the rotation with Central Michigan on vault. Western Michigan took the round with a high 49.400 points on floor, while Eastern Michigan earned a low 47.325 points on the beam.

Rotation 6 - Beam

Ball State finished its last rotation strong at 49.000 points. 

Middleton was a standout for the final rotation Ball State participated in, earning her third 9.900 of the night on the beam. She looked confident during her performance, with a strong back handspring layout and side aerial. 

Szymanski had the second best score of the event with 9.875 points. Her personality shined through during her routine as she performed a back handspring. She ended her routine with a round off and half off the beam. She was all smiles as she finished. 


Freshman all-around Ashley Szymanski perfoms her beam routine March 23 at the Mid-American Championship at Worthen Arena. Szymanski scored 9.875 on beam. Andrew Berger, DN

Teter and Henry had the lowest scores of the event at 9.600 points. The routines were strong, but it came down to hard judging and a few instances of  lost balance.

Northern Illinois earned 49.050 points on floor, Kent State got 49.500 points on vault and Bowling Green received 48.850 points on bars. 

The Cardinals finished the meet with 196.475 points, taking the lead and officially beating Kent State and Northern Illinois.

Rotation 7 - BYE

For the fourth round, Ball State was on bye, but the teams performed as follows: 

  • Western Michigan earned 49.250 points on the vault. 
  • Central Michigan acquired 49.025 points on the bars. 
  • Bowling Green received 46.950 points on the beam.
  • Eastern Michigan had 48.950 points on the floor.


The final order was as follows:

  • Western Michigan - 196.525
  • Ball State - 196.475 
  • Kent State - 196.325 
  • Central Michigan - 195.925 
  • Northern Illinois - 194.675
  • Eastern Michigan - 194.000 
  • Bowling Green State - 193.625