Victoria Henry competes on floor for Ball State at the 2023 Norman Regional round one.

For Ball State, The Regional First Round is Part of the Journey, Not the Destination

Ball State ended its historic season in the Norman regional first round, falling to N.C. State 196.050 to 195.375 on Wednesday afternoon. It was the Cardinals’ second appearance at regionals as a team in program history and the first time in decades the team has qualified for the postseason.

Ball State got off to a rocky start on bars, counting a fall, but came back with a strong vault rotation headlined by Suki Pfister’s excellent front handspring pike half and anchored by a stuck Yurchenko one and a half form Victoria Henry, who walked away with the win on the event.

To head coach Joanna Saleem, that’s hard mental work paying off. The team has focused on regulating emotions and staying in the moment, not looking back or getting ahead of themselves.

“Something that they’ve done really well this year is to learn to let mistakes go and continue to push forward and stay present clearly,” Saleem said, adding that today that objective was more of a struggle for the group.

Getting to this point, a historically high national finish, came down to leadership. Saleem credits her returning classes with never settling, always striving to be better and creating that culture in the gym. Junior Henry exemplifies that; she added beam to her program this season.

“[Adding beam] took a lot of confidence, knowing that like I’ve done these skills all my life and I can do them well if I really apply myself,” Henry said.

Pfister has also been a leader. She qualified for regionals as an individual in 2022.

“For her to be here and be looking around and being like, I want to bring the team, I want the team to be here with us. That message just continued to get more and more believable as the group matured and grew,” Saleem said.

Both Pfister and Henry said it was “so cool” to be on this stage with their team, something the Cardinals always thought was possible after coming so close in 2022. To Henry, this finish will inspire next year’s group to push even harder.

Pfister has the same mindset. She became Ball State’s first All-American when she garnered second-team regular season honors last week. The accolade was nowhere on her radar, and she didn’t realize it had happened until some Central Michigan team members told her at the MAC championships.

“That was such an honor,” she said, noting that leaving a legacy that will inspire others to greatness is important to her.

Saleem has her sights set on growth, too. “Now, hopefully, we will grow from this so that next year we can maybe not be in the first round, we’re in that second round, or we’re coming in and knowing how to be competitive the same way that we were all season,” she said.

While competing today was a huge, historic accomplishment for the Cardinals, it’s clearly not the goal nor the end of the journey as the team looks to the future.

Article by Emily Minehart

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