A Firm Foundation: Ball State gymnastics has worked hard to become a record-breaking team

<p>Graduate student all-around Megan Teter lands her vault jump March 23 at the Mid-American Championship at Worthen Arena. Teter scored 9.850 on vault. Andrew Berger, DN</p>

Graduate student all-around Megan Teter lands her vault jump March 23 at the Mid-American Championship at Worthen Arena. Teter scored 9.850 on vault. Andrew Berger, DN

Ball State Gymnastics finished 14-4 in the regular season and was named the regular season Mid-American Conference (MAC) champions for the second year in a row. The Cardinals placed second at the MAC Gymnastics Championships, broke several records and gained a spot at the 2024 National Collegiate Women’s Gymnastics Championships Regionals.

Their key to success? Planting bamboo. 

Going into the season, head coach Joanna Saleem spoke with the Cardinals about this process. It takes three years for bamboo to grow, but once it breaks the surface, it grows quickly because it has been nurtured and grown strong roots.

Saleem encouraged her gymnasts to do the same. 

“That is what we’re seeing now with the competitive success that they’re having,” she said. “They have spent time cultivating that foundation.” 

A Look at Regionals

Ball State headed north Wednesday, April 3, to compete in the Ann Arbor Regional hosted by the University of Michigan.

Ball State finished the regular season with a National Qualifying Score (NQS) of 196.600 at No. 34, while the Fighting Illini had an NQS of 196.690 at No. 31. 

After defeating Ball State, Illinois will face Oklahoma, NC State and Ohio State in the second round at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 4. Five Ball State gymnasts were selected to compete as individuals, which will kick off the same day..

Sophomore Zoe Middleton was selected as an all-around competitor, freshman Ashley Szymanski and graduate student Megan Teter were selected for bars, and seniors Victoria Henry and Suki Pfister will be competing on vault. 

Pfister will also participate on floor. She is the first gymnast in program history to earn Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association (WCGA) First Team All-America honors. 

Cultivating Connection

While winning meets and qualifying for the postseason always classifies success, what is most important to Saleem is the camaraderie and connection between the Cardinals.  

Their meet against George Washington University Feb. 23 was a highlight for her because she felt like the gymnasts were “very in sync” and built off each routine. The Cardinals won that meet 197.425-196.250, crossing the 197-point mark for just the second time in program history.  

“They've really embraced having difficult conversations with one another and working toward setting goals and working really hard at trying to accomplish what they've set out to do,” Saleem said.

Before the season started, the team went on a retreat to get to know each other and set goals for the year. Saleem said these trips have been “hugely beneficial” for laying out expectations for the season.

She said the plan helps them push through different points in the year when they may get ill or lack motivation. From loud routines to Nerf wars to yoga ball volleyball, Saleem has to get creative with practices to make sure the gymnasts don’t burn out.

“You're seeing more wins, and that's because every person on the floor has the ability to score well and perform well,” she said. 

Saleem has enjoyed seeing how the Cardinals have handled potential adversity throughout the season and watching them grow from it. 

Kelly Sulek, the Cardinals’ manager, has shared similar experiences despite her role being different than that of an athlete or coach.

Taking on a New Role

Sulek is a senior biology major, and while she is the Cardinals’ student manager now, she wasn’t always. Sulek competed on the team for her first two years of school, but after she tore her achilles, she had to step away from the sport.

“I'd made a commitment for four years, so if I had to step up into a different role, that's something I was willing to do,” she said.

As a manager, Sulek is there to help with anything the gymnasts need, from moving mats to being a sense of support. Although she isn’t on bars anymore, she is still happy to be in the atmosphere and see how the dynamic of the team has changed during the past four years. 

“They have really come into the gym every day with intention,” she said. “They understand what they are capable of and what it takes to get there.”

Sulek said what set the Cardinals apart this season was their shared accountability.  She has seen the gymnasts recognize how “incredible” they are and see that they’re comparable to bigger schools. 

“I'm so proud of how far this program has come from my freshman year to what it is now,” she said. “It has grown astronomically. Freshman year, we were just kind of surviving. Now we're thriving.”


Ball State head coach Joanna Saleem cheers March 23 at the Mid-American Championship at Worthen Arena. Ball State placed second for beam overall. Andrew Berger, DN

Sulek said she is going to miss her teammates and the memories they’ve made, but she is ready for the next chapter in her life. She will be attending the University of Findlay next academic year for physician's assistant school.

The End of an Era

Teter said she is also sad to say goodbye to the program, but she is proud of how the gymnasts performed during her final year.  

“We’ve accomplished so much,” she said. “We just continue to get better and better.”

Teter said the Cardinals bought into the idea that they were going to be a championship team and never lost sight of that. 

In fact, Teter was one of the Cardinals who broke a handful of records this season. At the Tennessee Collegiate Classic, Teter earned her first 10.000 on bars. Alongside Middleton, she earned the first perfect score on bars in program history. 

She said the Cardinals could have decided that all of the wins and records were enough for them, but they decided to push themselves to get even better. 

The Ohio native celebrated her second senior night March 17, but this time, it was her last. 

The all-arounder earned her bachelor’s degree in 2023 in biochemistry. She is taking classes at Ball State this year, but she plans to go to Butler University for the 2024-25 school year to become a physician’s assistant. 

Going into this final season, Teter wanted to be a leader and role model for the team. 

“I just wanted to do my best to bring up other leaders so that way, when I leave, the legacy will continue,” she said.

Saleem said the seniors have excelled at being mentors and pushing people who aren’t comfortable in leadership roles. Teter did this by getting close to the freshmen and showing them what it means to be a Ball State gymnast. She wanted to make the underclassmen feel welcome by showing them that the Cardinals are all one team.

She said her teammates mean everything to her. They’re her family, her sisters, her critics and her support system. She said she will miss the feeling of competing and having her team to back her up.

“I’m just thankful for it, thankful and grateful that it happened,” she said. “I wouldn’t go back and change it. I feel very content and happy.” 

Looking Ahead

Saleem believes the future is bright for the Cardinals. 

She has already recruited four new gymnasts for the 2025 season: Viviana Campuzano, Avery Kantor, Karli Mercer and Breelyn Rickey. Saleem said there may even be more additions before next year.

However, with at least one meet remaining, her eyes are on the road ahead. 

“Don’t count them out,” she said. “For any meet or any competition, you don’t count this team out. They will fight to the end. It’s pretty awesome to have that in a team, and they’re ready to get back after it.”

Contact Lila Fierek with comments at lkfierek@bsu.edu.


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