Ten-O Watch: 5 Big Ten gymnasts chasing perfection in 2024

By Caroline Price | January 14, 2024
Illinois' Mia Takekawa salutes at the 2024 Mean Girls Super 16 meet.
© Filippo Tomasi/Gymnastics Now

There are few achievements more coveted for a gymnast than receiving a perfect 10, and these Big Ten gymnasts could do it this season.

In the past few years, NCAA gymnastics has seen an explosion of “perfect” results across all conferences. In 2023, there were 84 total. This year, there have already been six, including three from Big Ten gymnasts.

While the implementation of the new stick rule should deter judges from flashing the ten for the infamous college stick, there are still plenty Big Ten gymnasts who can execute 10.0 worthy routines. That much is clear by the fact that three have already achieved the feat just two weeks into the season: Michigan State’s Sage Kellerman on vault, Michigan’s Sierra Brooks on floor, and Minnesota’s Mya Hooten on floor.

Who’s next? The Big Ten saw 11 10.0 scores in 2023, split between Michigan, Minnesota, and Michigan State. As we power through the 2024 season, here are seven gymnasts who could achieve perfection.

Mia Takekawa – Illinois

Key Event(s): Uneven Bars, Balance Beam

Graduate student Mia Takekawa is wrapping up a historic career with the Illini.

As a freshman, Takekawa became the first Illini ever to score a perfect 10.0 on any event – a feat accomplished on beam in only her second collegiate meet. She was perfect again on the apparatus in her junior season – the same year she won the Big Ten beam title. Takekawa works beam with unmatched composure and pace, executing difficult skills without an inkling of nerves.

While she is renowned for her beam prowess, Takekawa’s work on bars is equally impressive. She quietly snuck away with a share of the 2023 Big Ten title on the even and qualified as an individual to the 2022 NCAA Championships on bars alone. Takekawa’s routine features a floaty piked jaeger and bail to handstand – the latter of which she often nails in the vertical. As one of the Illini’s all-time greats and a gritty competitor, expect Takekawa to push for a 10.0 on bars before her historic career comes to a close.

Adeline Kenlin – Iowa

Key Event(s): Balance Beam

Iowa senior Adeline Kenlin is one of the athletes on this list who has arguably achieved perfection many times – she just hasn’t been rewarded for it. Kenlin holds the record for highest and second highest beam scores at Iowa and finished the 2022 season as the NCAA runner-up on the event – the highest NCAA finish in program history.

Kenlin shows her characteristic elegance and precision across all four events, but on beam, she is ethereal. With stunning posture and poise, it’s no wonder why she was second to only Olympic champion Sunisa Lee.

With the senior’s career winding down, a perfect 10 is one of the few feats left for Kenlin to achieve.

Nikki Smith – Michigan State

Key Event(s): Vault, Floor Exercise

Though just entering her sophomore year, Nikki Smith has played a massive role in Michigan State’s rise from a relatively unknown program to national contender. The 2023 Big Ten Freshman of the year is fresh off a historic season with the Spartans where she broke the MSU all-around record and scored the third perfect 10 in program history. This perfect score is likely to be the first of many for the Spartan star.

Smith’s vaulting is among the best in the country. She wraps in 1.5 twists and flares out before somehow making the blind landing look easy. It’s a recipe for stunning execution and an often-perfect stick. However, vault is not the only event where Smith is a standout.

Smith boasts career highs of 9.975 on both bars and floor, and of 9.925 on beam, showcasing immense ability across every apparatus. It’s safe to say that any event could be the site of perfection for Smith in 2024.

Skyla Schulte – Michigan State

Key Event(s): Floor Exercise

Another huge factor in Michigan State’s climb is junior all-around athlete Skyla Schulte. Like her teammate Nikki Smith, Schulte was Big Ten Freshman of the Year in her first season (2022) and has since seen continued success. The First-Team All-Big Ten athlete holds a career high of 9.95 on bars and 9.975 on floor exercise – the latter being the event where she truly shines.

In typical Michigan State fashion, Schulte doesn’t hold back in her tumbling. She opens with a huge full-twisting double back and closes with a front through to sky-high double back. Coupled with energetic dance and stunning oversplits, Schulte is the whole package on floor. Moreover, her junior season could finally be the year that she closes in on a perfect score.

Ava Piedrahita – Penn State

Key Event(s): Vault

Penn State’s Ava Piedrahita is a dark horse to score a perfect 10 this season. The sophomore is fresh off an impressive rookie season for the Nittany Lions, culminating in an individual trip to the NCAA Championships and All-American honors. Piedrahita competed all-around for Penn State in every team meet last year and is a national standout on vault.

Piedrahita owns a career high of 9.95 for her gorgeous Omelianchik – a vault rarely seen in collegiate competition. The vault carries a 10.0 start value and features a round-off onto the springboard, half turn onto the table, and a forward somersault in a pike position.

While its incidence may be a rarity, Piedrahita’s ability to hit the vault is not. Including postseason competition, she recorded a 9.8 or higher on 14 occasions in 2023, with her lowest postseason score coming in at an impressive 9.850. Look for Piedrahita to continue to climb closer to perfection as Penn State’s season unfolds.

We know this list is nowhere near complete, so which athletes do you hope to see receive a perfect score this season? Tell us in the comments below.