On a frigid Jersey afternoon in Piscataway, Illinois women’s gymnastics defeated Rutgers 196.575 to 196.375. The Illini improved to 3-2 overall and 1-0 in the conference, picking up an important bounce-back win after a disappointing second-place finish at 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 floor. Senior Mia Takekawa completed the meet with a 9.925 on beam, tying for first place.
Maybe it was the Jersey air, or the home atmosphere, or 23rd-ranked Illinois, but Rutgers scored well above its average. The Scarlet Knights hit 195 just three times this season, and against the Illini, they hit 196 for the first time all season.
“They look so focused,” freshman gymnast Arielle Ward said. “And they worked as a unit. As you often see a lot of teams focusing on themselves individually. Like, that’s something we’ve worked on as well, just like creating a cohesive unit there, invested in each other at every moment and whatever.”
It was tough, but Illinois pulled through. The Illini now head into Big Ten play with momentum, something invaluable.
“I think it really boosted our confidence as a team. We were really excited about this win,” Ward said. “We’ve definitely worked really hard like since we came back from the break to get there and it’s just from there. We have something to prove this season. So we’re really excited.”
Ward, the freshman, has performed well above his status as a freshman. She has been Illinois’ top performer in the vault, posting a 9.82 against Missouri and a 9.80 at the Arizona Quad.
“I think there’s always some kind of pressure with sports, just wanting to do really well,” Ward said. “But really, as a freshman, not just going out there doing what I know how to do. And having confidence in all of that was really important to 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 mustn’t let the nerves build up and take over.”
The Illini are undefeated in the conference, they may or may not stay that way, but either way, they control their own destiny. They control themselves.
“I really come every day giving 110 percent, being there for others, working hard, controlling everything we can control in the end and letting everything happen as it should,” Ward said.
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