While the majority of alternates normally don’t see much action, there's an uncertainty that makes it difficult to prepare.
Three Ball State gymnasts — sophomore Kaitlyn Menzione (all-around) and seniors Sarah Ebeyer (vault) and Baylee Bell (beam) — were selected as alternates for the NCAA regional in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois on Saturday. While it may seem like there isn't any pressure on them, head coach Joanna Saleem said being an alternate may be harder than having a guaranteed spot.
“They’re in the situation right now where they’re not done, but they’re not necessarily competing,” Saleem said. “It’s really hard to keep that competitive mindset and be ready to go at a moment’s notice. It’s also difficult for us as coaches too, as we want to be able to push them but make sure they’re not going to get an injury this late in the season.”
Ball State doesn't have to look far to find an example of an alternate who ended up competing — last season, then-junior Kayla Beckler was asked to perform after an injury to another school's gymnast.
“In gymnastics, a split-second decision while someone is coming down, anything can be detrimental to their body and can take them out of the competition," Ebeyer said. "You need to have that mindset that you’re still competing and you have a job.”
Training has been a little less intense since the end of the Mid-American Conference Championships, but the work ethic is still there with a different type of focus, Saleem said.
But some of the gymnasts haven’t changed much in the way they practice.
“My routine on beam hasn’t really changed at all,” Bell said. “I'll do my first routine and act like it’s a competition and work on my skills after, which is what we’ve been doing the entire season. Being an alternate, you think of it differently, but you train the same way.”
The Urbana-Champaign regional features some of the top teams and individuals in the nation, including No. 5 UCLA and No. 8 Oregon State.
“I really think I can learn something from watching these other teams,” Menzione said. “I can see how their attitude may affect their performance and maybe how they see things in a different way.”
While competing against these teams can be a learning experience, it can be intimidating as well. Ebeyer said the team definitely felt some intimidation last year.
“We had a few girls last year go up against Oklahoma, and I feel like I lucked out a little bit because I got to be with some of the MAC schools,” Ebeyer said. It is intimidating, but that’s when you have to take a step back and say 'I’m here at regionals for a reason, because I’m consistent, I know what I’m doing and I can hit this routine.'”
As these three gymnast prepare to head off into a weekend of uncertainty, they are enjoying the fact that they get to be involved competitively for a day longer.
“It’s been a great experience to continue the season,” Bell said. “Almost half the team practices with us every day so nothing really changed.”
The Urbana-Champaign regional begins Saturday at 4 p.m.