WCIA — Illinois gymnast Mia Takekawa thought she was getting on a video call to talk about her summer classes, but head coach Nadalie Walsh had other plans. A scholarship became available at the beginning of the year, and Walsh decided to give it to Takekawa.
“I didn’t know that was a possibility, or something that they could do, just giving a scholarship retroactively,” says Takekawa. “I was not expecting that, but I was just super grateful that she was just able to do that for me, and for my parents especially.”
Takekawa was only supposed to receive a scholarship for her last three seasons, but as a walk-on this year, she exceeded expectations becoming the first Illini in program history to score a perfect 10.0 on the beam.
“I wanted to see someone emerge and earn it. She wants to see Illinois be great, not good,” says Walsh. “That’s what I want, those champion-minded athletes. It was very obvious, and she did a great job of setting herself apart.”
“Definitely just the value of that, and what it meant for Nadalie to give that to me,” says Takekawa. “I’ve worked hard this whole year and to have it validated like that meant a lot.”
Her success went well beyond the beam this season. She was the first Illini to win both the Big Ten Gymnast of the Week, and Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors in the same week. The California-native also won eight event titles—the most by an Illini freshman since 2008.
“I think there’s going to be a lot more records shattered not only by Mia but by the whole program, ” says Walsh. “Because of her commitment, and her belief, and her pioneering way.”
“I think we were definitely, as a team, culminating to I think what would have been a really good postseason,” says Takekawa. “But I think our momentum will definitely carry over to next season.”
The Illini were ranked No. 22 in the country before the season was cancelled, and with three still seasons ahead of her, there could be plenty of surprises still in store for Takekawa.