It's been a memorable start to Ball State Gymnastics' season, sitting at 6-3 and 1-1 in Mid-American Conference competition. Wins over Pittsburgh and MAC foe Bowling Green continue to propel the team upward.
However, head coach Joanna Saleem said a buildup in smaller mistakes set the Cardinals back in the squad's first conference loss of the season to Western Michigan 195.750-193.775. An off performance here and there began to build up for the Cardinals, spreading uncertainty on the floor.
"It was a bit of a rough day for us," Saleem said. "We definitely had a lot of great individual highs in there today, but when you have a couple people that are off a little bit, it makes it a little bit harder to end up in the place you want to by the end of the meet."
The Broncos swept first place in individual performances, which included one tie, and won three of the four events on the night. Ball State continued to look to vault as its weapon of choice, as the team finished with a score of 48.925 in the event. The Cardinals were led off by sophomore Marissa Nychyk, who took second with a score of 9.825. Junior Arden Hudson, sophomore Stefanie Schweikert and senior Bri Slonim followed with a score of 9.800.
"We're just a really strong vault team," Saleem said. "They're just really strong over there, and they approach their training with such a great mindset. I predict we'll have success over there. We're still pretty strong on all four events, and we're still trying to get where we want to be on bars."
Bars continued to stand as an event Ball State is still trying to find its ground in. The team saw a 0.950-point improvement from last week's finish in Denver, finishing the event with a score of 48.850. Nychyk tied for third place in the event with a score of 9.750.
Her impact for the Cardinals as a sophomore has not gone unnoticed. After qualifying for NCAA Regionals last season as a freshman, Nychyk has been a driving force Ball State's success in the early season. In Kalamazoo, she led Ball State on bars and vault, contributing to her all-around score of 37.350.
"She's an all-around competitor," Nychyk said. "She's in her sophomore year, coming off of Regionals, and she's pretty steady. I know she's had a couple of mistakes here today that she's going to be pretty upset about, but overall, she's able to come in and have a stable, consistent performance. Her training mentality is huge for this group as well."
Alongside a strong showing from Nychyk on vault and bars, Hudson had a record-setting day on the beam, as her first-place finish of 9.900 tied Ball State's team record in the event. Her impact in the event helped the team to a 48.425 finish in the event.
While the Cardinals did see a handful of individual standouts in the finish, Western Michigan surged through the entire event, and the small slip ups from Ball State began to add up. Every Bronco gymnast would win, and tie for first in the case for beam, with a score of 9.850 or more. The highest finish came from Western's Amelia Mohler, who tied Hudson on beam at 9.900.
In the perspectives of Saleem and her team, Sunday's finish is a small bump in the road to the top. She said she believes her team has yet to peak, as it reaches the midway point of the season. In addition, Saleem said the meet gives the team experience on the same equipment, which will be used at the MAC Championship in March.
"Since MACs are back here at the end of the season, I told the team after that this is the arena we're going to be competing in for conference championship, so take today to do a little bit of evaluating," Saleem said. "What did we learn from today, and how can we make ourselves a little bit better tomorrow?"
Ball State continues its stint on the road in Athens, Georgia, next week, taking on No. 10 Georgia and another MAC competitor in Eastern Michigan.
Contact Jack Williams with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jackgwilliams.