Takekawa leads Illini to 2-0 Big Ten start


Sidney Malone

Senior Mia Takekawa poses at a meet against Rutgers on Feb. 25, 2022. On Saturday, Takekawa finished with a 9.950 on beam, placing first.

By Theo Gary, Staff Writer

When senior Mia Takekawa stepped up to the bars, the crowd gathered in Huff Hall knew a winner was in front of them. Like the rest of Illinois women’s gymnastics on Saturday against Nebraska, Takekawa won, scoring a ridiculously high 9.950 on bars. The Illini, similarly, beat the Cornhuskers by nearly a full point, 196.700 to 195.800.

Illinois swept Nebraska in all categories on Saturday. Senior Mia Townes had the best vault, a 9.900. Junior Abby Mueller was best on the floor, finishing her routine with a 9.900. But Takekawa really had the best afternoon in Huff Hall, finishing an all-around first with 39.525 points and wins in beam (9.925) and bars (9.950).

For Takekawa, who has been an Illinois standout all season, the key to success isn’t just the physical repetition — the margins are so thin — it’s about the mental aspect and preparation to relieve pressure.

“It’s a lot of mental and mostly confidence training, versus the actual physical training,” Takekawa said. “Doing the pressure simulations in practice and doing a lot of mental routines and just being able to calm myself down and breathe right before I go.”

When Takekawa landed that 9.950 — the highest score of anyone in any category, tying her top career score  — she was met with massive celebration, not just from the fans, but from her team.

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“I think, even if you think that your routine was good, if the vibe of the team is not great, it can really affect the person performing, and it affects me definitely,” Takekawa said. “So, having a really positive environment from the audience and my own team is really helpful.”

For Takekawa, bars were her best category. But bars was excellent for the team as well, an overall 49.175, .650 ahead of Nebraska. 

“Bars was a really great day for us,” Takekawa said. “I think being able to get a lot of those landings and handstands was really good.”

Despite the thorough win, junior Caitlyn Ewald fell while on bars, but that did not rattle the Illini.

“We did have a fall, but I feel like one of our strengths is being able to have a mistake in a lineup and not let it affect the people afterwards. So we didn’t have to count that score and let it affect our overall team performance,” Takekawa said.

So far, the Illini have beaten two projected bottom-half Big Ten programs in Nebraska and Rutgers. Keeping that 2-0 start going is quite a tall task going into serious Big Ten competition.

“We’ve set score goals throughout the season, and we’re increasing our score every time in the last few meets out, which is really important for momentum,” Takekawa said. “Just to have confidence as we go into the week of practice that we don’t really need to restart and rework everything. It’s really just getting confidence in small numbers, as we head into those harder competitions.”


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