Illinois women’s gymnastics downs Rutgers for perfect conference start

By Theo Gary, Staff Writer

On a cold Jersey afternoon in Piscataway, Illinois women’s gymnastics took down Rutgers 196.575 to 196.375. The Illini improved to 3-2 overall and 1-0 in the conference, earning an important bounce-back win after a disappointing second-place finish in the Arizona Quad Meet.

Illinois was led by senior Mallory Mizuki’s 9.900 on bars. On vault, senior Mia Townes also scored a 9.900, leading all gymnasts in that category. Townes led the Illini with a 9.250 on the floor. Senior Mia Takekawa rounded out the meet with a 9.925 on the beam, tying for first place.

Maybe it was the Jersey air, or the home atmosphere, or Illinois’ 23rd ranking, but Rutgers scored considerably over their average. The Scarlet Knights cracked 195 only three times this season and, against the Illini, they hit 196 for the first time all season.

“They just seem so focused,” freshman all-around gymnast Arielle Ward said. “And they worked as a unit. Like, oftentimes, you see lots of teams focusing on themselves individually. Like, that’s also something we’ve worked on as well, just like creating a cohesive unit being there, invested in each other in every turn and whatnot.”

It was tough, but Illinois got it done. The Illini now head into Big Ten play with momentum, an invaluable thing.

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“I think it really boosted our confidence as a team. We were really excited about that win,” Ward said. “We definitely worked really hard like ever since coming back from break to get there and it’s only up from here. We really have something to prove this season. So we’re really excited.”

Ward, the All-Around Freshman, has performed highly above her status as a freshman. She has been the best Illinois performer on vault, scoring a 9.82 against Missouri and 9.80 in the Arizona Quad meet.

“I think there’s always kind of pressure with the sport, just wanting to do really well,” Ward said. “But really, like as a freshman, not really just going out there doing what I know how to do. And being confident in it all was just really important for me.”

The mental aspect, where high-level sports are played, is what Ward focuses on before meets. It’s routine anyway, right?

“I visualize my routines before I do any event, and make sure I just breathe and trust my training, because at the end of the day, we’ve done these routines thousands of times, so we know exactly how to do it,” Ward said. “So we just don’t need to let the nerves build up and take over.”

The Illini are undefeated in conference, they may or may not stay that way, but, whatever the case, they control their own destiny. They control themselves.

“I’m really just coming in every day giving 110%, being there for each other, working hard, just controlling everything we can control the end and letting everything happen how it needs to,” Ward said.


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