Illinois Women’s Gymnastics defeats Rutgers for perfect conference start

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

Illinois was led by Senior Mallory Mizuki with 9,900 on beam. Senior Mia Townes also scored a 9.900 on Vault, leading all gymnasts in this category. Townes led the Illini on the floor with 9,250. Senior Mia Takekawa rounded out the meeting with a 9.925 on the beam for first place.

Maybe it was the Jersey air, or the home vibe, or Illinois’ 23rd place finish, but Rutgers finished well above their average. The Scarlet Knights have broken 195 just three times this season, hitting 196 against the Illini for the first time all season.

“They just seem so focused,” said freshman all-around gymnast Arielle Ward. “And they worked as a unit. You often see many teams focusing individually on themselves. That’s also something we’ve been working on, as well as creating a cohesive entity that’s there, investing in each other at every turn and so on.”

It was tough, but Illinois made it. The Illini are now going into the Big Ten with momentum, an invaluable thing.

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

Ward, the all-around freshman, has far surpassed her status as a freshman. She was Illinois’ top performer on vault, posting a 9.82 against Missouri and a 9.80 in the Arizona quad meet.

“I think there’s always some pressure in sport to just want to do really well,” Ward said. “But really, like a freshman, not really just going out there and doing what I can. And being confident in all of that was just really important to me.”

The mental aspect of playing sport at a high level is what Ward focuses on before meetings. It’s routine anyway, isn’t it?

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

The Illini are undefeated in the conference, they may or may not remain so, but either way they control their own destiny. You control yourself.

“I really come every day, I give 110%, I’m there for each other, I work hard, I just control everything that we can control in the end and let everything happen as it needs to,” Ward said.

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