No. 20 Illinois women’s gymnastics sets season-highs, snaps losing streak against No. 24 Rutgers

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Sidney Malone

Junior Mia Takekawa and rest of the team celebrate as Takekawa sticks her landing during her event on bars against Rutgers on Friday. The Illini won against the Scarlet Knights 196.650-195.475.

By Renato Arteaga, Staff Writer

In their first of three straight home meets, the No. 20 Illini women’s gymnastics team managed to defeat No. 24 Rutgers, 196.650-195.475. 

This victory marked the Illini’s second win against a Big Ten opponent this season. Their score of 196.650 also marked the team’s new season-high in points.  

The Illini showcased their depth throughout the meet as they secured their first win after a three-meet losing streak.

Junior Lexi Powe, who earned a 9.75 on the vault, shared that this was a crucial win for the team after they didn’t do so well during their last home meet against Minnesota on Feb. 5.

“This home meet we really wanted to be ourselves,” Powe said. “Before, we were trying to be a team that we really weren’t. We were trying to be perfect and just weren’t being our authentic selves.”

Powe went on to describe how important the team’s state of mind was for them to be successful during this competition. 

“It just leads to a better performance when you’re not worried about everything you can’t control and only focus on what you can control,” Powe said. “That’s exactly what we did this weekend. We controlled our attitude, controlled our happiness, and it all worked in our favor.”

Multiple Illini gymnasts posted new career highs during the meet, including freshman Ruthuja Nataraj, who posted career highs on the vault and floor with scores of 9.90.

A vault specialist, Powe praised Nataraj for allowing her confidence to shine during her performance against Rutgers. She also shared how excited she will be to see Nataraj compete in future big conference meets, such as the upcoming Big Ten Championships.

“She really stepped up to the plate,” Powe said. “In my eyes, she competes like she’s a veteran. She competes like she’s been doing this thing for five years already.”

Vault anchor junior Arayah Simons scored 9.90 for the third week in a row, which ties her career high.

Junior Olivia O’Donnell and sophomore Abby Mueller also scored 9.90s during the uneven bar and the floor, respectively. These scores tied a career high for O’Donnell and set a new personal best for Mueller. 

Junior Mia Takekawa also posted a career best total of 39.450, including an event title on the beam with a season-best score of 9.925.

This win marks the Illini’s fifth straight victory against Rutgers dating back since the 2015 season. 

The team previously defeated the Scarlet Knights, 195.525-192.500, last season during a tri-meet in Piscataway, New Jersey.

The women’s squad’s record currently stands at 3-3 after this win against Rutgers and marks its first head-to-head victory since January when it defeated Penn State, 196.350-195.475. 

Following this meet, the Illini will be hosting a quad meet that will feature Central Michigan, Boise State and Northern Illinois on Friday. This next meet will once again take place in Huff Hall and is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

 

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