I feel weird about the fact that I just typed the phrase “No. 6 Illinois,” guys. But Illinois really did have a spectacular first meet last week, putting up its best-ever season opening score and upsetting Missouri even without the help of key senior Rae Balthazor, who is yet to make her competition return from a foot injury sustained in February 2019. We’re hoping that Balthazor will be back tonight, though in full honesty we know very little about her status. It’s no crisis for the Illini if she’s still out, since their freshman class is so powerful. Big Ten freshman AND gymnast of the week Mia Takekawa is the centerpiece of a large and extremely useful cohort.
Lindenwood and Temple are both making their season debut in Champaign, and there’s every reason to believe it will be a big year for both. Lindenwood’s freshman class of three should add many more routines than the Lions graduated from their USAG title-winning 2019 team, and while we’re still not sure how many events junior star Courtney Mitchell will be healthy enough to do, the Lions’ depth can easily withstand any outcome. Temple’s freshman class isn’t shabby either, especially former UIC commit Madi Brooks, but all eyes should by rights be on 2019 ECAC rookie of the year Ariana Castrence. The sophomore powerhouse has added a new Yurchenko double twist this year and looks
Not much excitement in the introductions, apart from that all three teams are wearing blue ribbons in recognition of SCSU’s Melanie Coleman. I expect we’ll see quite a lot of that this year. McKenzie Eddy for Illinois is in a boot—she was a floor prospect but didn’t compete last week.
No Monica Servidio for Temple. That’s not great.
Rotation 1: Illinois vault, Temple bars, Lindenwood beam
Waight (Illinois): Yurchenko half, slight pike in the air and a quick but fairly restrained step forward. 9.700
We’re not seeing anything from other teams thus far, just a long Illinois vault prep.
Howell (Illinois): Twisting onto the table and not the strongest body position, hop back. Vault is about survival for Illinois and they’re doing it but you’re not likely to see anything really special here. 9.675
Takekawa (Illinois): Whoa, way off to one side from the table and gets worse as she keeps going. All right body position and she stayed on the mat, but it’s really obvious from our camera angle, which is behind the landing mat. 9.75
Scott (Illinois): Big, powerful, scoot and a step backwards. 9.7
Townes (Illinois): Best dynamics of the lineup, very slight pike but moves smoothly through it, small hop back. 9.7
Garin (Temple): Coming in halfway for a straddle back, missed a handstand on the high bar, grabbed her thighs to hang onto her blind full double back dismount but holds the stick. 9.65
Edwards (Temple): Missed a handstand, Tkachev not huge but solid. Good bail, missed another one, double layout feels a bit flung out but keeps a good hold on the landing. 9.7
Estrella (Temple): Clear hip to Tkachev, a beauty, Pak, back hip circles straight out of it a la Helen Hu. Drops off the bar. Salutes and leaves. Commentators say she has back trouble and that might be related. We hate to see it. 7.375 and it took a good while for the judges to do the math on that.
Griswold (Lindenwood): Freshman debut! BHS LOSO, little check, side somi with a slight lean forward but hangs on with no dramatics. Cutting back to Illinois. Sorry, kiddo. Cut back for I think a 3/2 twist dismount with a hop forward. Significant L-U chant in the arena! So cool to have fans on the road. 9.625
Mitchell (Lindenwood): Commentators said she fell. Glad she’s back on this event, she’s got a running and mysterious knee situation. Connected gainer full off the side, little hop. 9.15
Colwell (Lindenwood): BHS BHS LOSO, really good! You expect a little knees on a series like that in college but hers is very close to perfect. Aggressive full turn, switch switch split missing splits, cartwheel gainer full with a little scoot. Good one. 9.75
Franklin (Lindenwood): DYING laughing because she’s from Saskatchewan and the commentators don’t have the faintest idea what that is or how to say it. It’s phonetic! Back from a knee injury this year and she’s braced. Leap on, extensive tiptoe series down the beam to line up for her series, BHS LOSO pretty with an arm adjustment. Her choreo is so classy. Sissone to side aerial, a little tentative but I’d give it. Split jump split 3/4, close to position but not quite there, full turn, gainer pike not a lot of horizontal separation from the beam but pretty. 9.7
Henry (Lindenwood): While lineups were up and down and Mitchell was limited by her injury last year, Henry was this team’s core and stability. She’s one of the best AAers in USAG gymnastics. An anchor spot on beam is great for her. Full turn, BHS LOSO, something to switch side and ALMOST comes off backwards, great fight. Side aerial tentative but got it, hit leaps, one and a half twist with a bit of a bounce forward. 9.45
Chavez (Lindenwood): In exhibition. She has the weirdest acro in the world. Kick front to one foot side somi series. Switch leap gainer side somi. Hitch kick gainer full. WILD 9.55
Illinois 48.600, Temple 48.500, Lindenwood 48.275
The start Illinois needed on the event it likes least. Now it can get comfortable. The Estrella bummer shouldn’t distract from Temple’s very strong start, and Lindenwood had two nervy routines but four very strong ones.
Taking this opportunity to register that Gayla Griswold’s ponytail reminds me of Comaneci.
Rotation 2: Illinois bars, Temple beam, Lindenwood floor
Biondi (Illinois): Blind to Jaeger, flexed feet, short on a handstand on the high bar, good bail. Blind full double back stuck-ish. Aw, the Weiler is gone I guess. 9.775
Howell (Illinois): Commentators say she’s a “very well seasoned senior.” Nice pike Jaeger, Pak with leg split, hitting handstands. Blind full, looks unstable and she almost loses her back but gets it back, double back stuck. 9.85
Takekawa (Illinois): Blind to Jaeger, fingertip catch, bail. Handstands are on it. Double lay, a little funky in the air, good landing with a small step back. 9.875
O’Donnell (Illinois): Blind change is art, Jaeger with one bent foot and caught a bit wonky. Transition good, blind full double back fine, sorry I got distracted by the immense clunkiness of “THAT’S AN ILLINOIS STUCK DISMOUNT!” 9.875
Powe (Illinois): Hit a release, missed a handstand and went over, hung on. Couple of empty swings and then she recasts, good on her for not jumping off! Good bail, messy FTDB with a strong landing. 9.35
Bixler (Illinois): Nailed the Deltchev, clear hip to bail, double lay feels a touch low but gets around well with a step back. High fives from Rae Balthazor, who, just saying, was not in this lineup. 9.85
Fall from Julia Waight in the exhibition. Closed hips on double lay but secure landing.
Newland (Temple): PUNCH FRONT MOUNT one foot never hit the beam and she fell in slow motion. Tried to hang on but nobody has the strength to come back from that. BHS LOSO, leg form, hitch kick switch side with some feet. Full turn, cat leap CUT AWAY TO ILLINOIS. 8.95
Todd (Temple): Cut in in the middle, gainer full off the side very piked but stuck. 8.925
Sorry Temple, haven’t seen any more of you. The stream definitely loves you least but I still love you <3
Just kidding, stuck double full from Castrence! 9.8. The commentators started out putting a LOT of effort into saying her surname and they’ve gone back to the American way now.
Baars (Lindenwood): Finished with a one and a half punch something that landed flat on her back. That’s not a fun place to land. 8.875
Colwell (Lindenwood): Took a sec to get a score out for Baars, so she’s been sitting around. Double pike a touch over with a scoot back, front lay front pike wonderful. Quality performer. Switch half split full Popa, I think, but imprecise on positions and rotation. Double pike, great landing! 9.6
Baze (Lindenwood): Double pike, scoot way back and an arm circle to hang on. Double back with a low chest, performance quality high again. Leap series with a badly underrotated wolf full at the end. One and a half front lay, punch timed oddly but got it around.
Henry (Lindenwood): Took awhile for her to get a flag to start and she spent the time looking back and forth between the two judges with the most bemused face. Double pike nailed, forward roll to wolf jump direct is really fun and I love it. Double tuck hop to lunge, beauty, switch side to Popa to wolf 3/5 ish. One and a half front lay beautiful! 9.675, I think that must mean that they totally devalued the wolf full. Not unjustified but definitely a wake-up call, and the kind you want to get in week one while there’s time to troubleshoot.
Chavez (Lindenwood): In the exhibition, borderline OOB on the first pass, wolf full wolf full questionable on rotation, two and a half twist closing pass really strong.
After 2: Illinois 97.825, Temple 96.050, Lindenwood 95.800
We thought this meet might be close. It’s not. Temple and Lindenwood are putting on a good show but still have a lot of details to work out, which is normal for both of them in January. But Illinois looks almost ready for conference championships. This team can compete. I just want to know how high it can go.
Rotation 3: Lindenwood vault, Illinois beam, Temple floor
Leman (Lindenwood): Closed shoulders on the table and a body position question on her Yurchenko full but secure landing, small hop.
Borden (Illinois): Penn was supposed to come this meet and that would involve Rachel Borden’s big sister Natalie coming to visit her. Bummed that didn’t happen. Crazy planche thingy, front aerial, big check and disguises it as a scale with limited convincingness. Repeats it, front aerial FHS sissone. Walkover to knees and FALLS OFF I-
Something to sheep jump, punch front full huge and stuck. 9.175
Biondi (Illinois): BHS LOSO, covers almost no ground, bend check and juuust avoids grabbing the beam. Switch double stag, leg up and comes off. Full turn, almost wobbles on choreo, one and a half dismount with a step forward. Counting a fall now, bummer. 8.725
Howell (Illinois): Full turn, little check, BHS to pikeout nailed. Switch straddle quarter, hitch kick switch side, love her side scale choreo, gainer pike drilled. 9.675
Noonan (Illinois): Well, she’s doing a lot of hard breathing before mounting. BHS LOSO aggressive, keeps it in line with her arms. Full turn, switch to LOSO, beautiful form. Beat double stag with a little adjustment, cartwheel gainer full. Best yet by far. 9.9!
Scott (Illinois): Had shoulder surgery over the summer! Clean thru acro, switch to split lovely, hitch kick front aerial with a little adjustment, back handspring? to gainer full stuck. Great. 9.925
Takekawa (Illinois): Side aerial BHS not with quite the flourish that we’ve seen before but lovely. Good leaps, switch gainer LOSO quick and easy. Full turn, BHS gainer full stuck. Give it a 10 fam you can do it!!
I am losing it. They gave her a 10.
How do we move on from this?
Everett (Temple): Front double full punch front, hop forward into lunge. These leotards are a different level of sparkly to everything else in the arena, so much so that it’s freaking the cameras out. Double pike, a little crunchy but makes it work, tour jete half to Popa secure. Cut away.
Busch (Temple): Double tuck, underrotated and scurries forward to avoid putting her hands down. Rudi is good. Accidental dive roll out of her combo pass, oops.
After 3: Illinois 146.500, Lindenwood 144.125, Temple 143.975
How do I continue to function after Mia Takekawa got a 10? My heart is still racing.
Rotation 4: Temple vault, Lindenwood bars, Illinois floor
Takekawa (Illinois): Dude, how does SHE keep functioning after that? Double pike great, one and a half punch lay a touch underrotated but makes it work. Punch Rudi to split, bouncy, jumps to lunge to keep it under control.
Boogerd (Lindenwood): Deltchev is great, overshoot, double lay a little close but secure.
Howell (Illinois): She really is doing floor to Toxic by Britney Spears. How can we not stan? Front through double back. Leaps refreshingly correctly rotated, underrotated final pass and puts her hands down. Not good for the ankles.
Castrence (Temple): Just a full today, she can do both a one and a half and a double.
Colwell (Lindenwood): Tkachev with flexed feet, blind to straddle back strong, double lay supposedly stuck but we didn’t see it.
Scott (Illinois): Strong landing on front double full, one and a half front lay. She’s such a precise dancer, I think they could do more with her choreography. Switch leap tour jete full, Rudi good to finish.
Noonan (Illinois): Front double full, a little overrotated. Front layout to Rudi. This might be an old Bridget Sloan music. Cat leap 3/2 actually really nice, one and a half front lay is great.
Biondi (Illinois): Double pike, scoot back. Front lay front full, I think switch side wolf full, double tuck well done, lunge maybe a touch quick.
Simons (Illinois): I love her dance, so contemporary and cool. Double pike with a little scoot. One and a half front lay, beautiful leaps, double back. She knows how to milk a landing. A lot of presence.
Julia Waight does a side pass in the exhibition!
FINAL: Illinois 195.525, Lindenwood 192.675, Temple 192.550
VT – Ariana Castrence (Temple) 9.800
UB – Mia Takekawa, Olivia O’Donnell (Illinois) 9.875
BB – Mia Takekawa (Illinois) 10.000
FX – Arayah Simons (Illinois) 9.875
AA – Mia Takekawa (Illinois) 39.350
Those Illinois freshmen, right? Obviously Takekawa is a huge deal and only getting bigger, but Simons, O’Donnell and Townes are already huge for the Illini, with Powe and Waight on the rise as well. This is a very different team this year and it seems like an unqualified good thing.
Lindenwood and Temple started in pretty normal places compared to their respective historic results, with a few weird flickers from veterans and some lineup decisions still to make. Excited to see what’s to come this year. Gayla Griswold and Madi Brooks had great days and both have serious star potential.
Live blog by Rebecca Scally
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