Holli Joyce, KSL.com
MyKayla Skinner celebrates her all-around score of 39.7775 — the fifth-best in program history — Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 at the Huntsman Center.
SALT LAKE CITY — No one should be surprised at the level of success Utah gymnast MyKayla Skinner is experiencing this season. After all, the Arizona gymnast came to Utah with a handful of accolades and wins at the international elite level.
But as good as she’s been, what shouldn’t get lost is that each week she has gotten better. That’s saying a lot considering she’s dominated the Pac-12 weekly awards — garnering three straight gymnast and freshman of the week nods — in a competitive league.
She ranks in the top 10 for all four events and is No. 2 in the all-around with a 39.642 average. Her 39.775 in last week’s win is the second-best score in the nation this season and is tied for fifth-best in the Utah record books. It is also tied for the best by a Utah freshman (Ashley Postell, 2005).
Skinner has proven to be a gymnast worth waiting for — she deferred attending Utah one year to try and qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. But it’s not just her gymnastics that is boosting the fourth-ranked Red Rocks. It’s also her competitiveness and ability to get the crowd roaring.
“MyKayla is an interactive person with a great personality — this is her stage,” said Utah co-head coach Tom Farden.
“Her gymnastics is world class, but relatively easy for her. When you have that combination of confidence from being on the world stage, competing multiple times in front of fan bases this large, it doesn’t surprise me how interactive she has been out there.”
But even with all of the media and fan attention, Skinner remains grounded and is enjoying every moment of her journey from the international elite world to the NCAA. She credits her faith for being a major grounding point. Skinner is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I just stay true to my faith and believe whatever happens happens. I try to keep a positive mind every day,” said Skinner.
Skinner relied on her faith heavily when deciding to defer her attendance at Utah.
“I feel so blessed that I did defer in a way,” said Skinner. “It helped Sabrina (Schwab) out — she brings so much to us and I’m so grateful it worked out the way it did. Now I am here with her and the rest of this team is having so much fun.”
When Skinner deferred, it opened up an opportunity for Utah to recruit another gymnast. The Red Rocks snagged the talented Schwab after UCLA had dropped her scholarship. Schwab went on to be the 2016 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.
While Skinner’s faith was a major driver in her decision to come to Utah, she believes two other factors played in as well. The first is that she has family, including a sister, here in the state. The second is that she lived in Utah when she was 7 years old. During that time, her family brought her to a couple of Utah gymnastics meets.
“Utah has always been my favorite team. Coming to those meets when I was younger, the atmosphere always stuck with me and being out here in front of those fans is really a dream come true,” said Skinner.
“I also have some family up here and I definitely liked the (LDS) Institute when I came for my visit. I think it was just the right fit for me.”
The combination of things is something Skinner believes has helped her settle in, considering she didn’t get to Utah full-time until October. And despite the Olympic alternate's domination this season, including winning 13-15 individual titles in Utah’s three meets, she is realistic about balancing success and expectations.
“The pressure is always there because every gymnast is trying to do the same thing — do well and help their team. I just try to take it one day at a time, and now I can work on perfecting my routines because I’ve been able to take out a few skills,” said Skinner.
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With Skinner getting better each week, it shouldn’t be surprising that so is the rest of the Red Rocks squad. The team hit a season-high 197.625 in last week's win with senior Baely Rowe recording a career-best 39.625 in the all-around.
“I think it goes both ways,” said Farden. “MyKayla is pushing our team to be better, but they are doing the same for her. It goes back to her embracing this team and them and the community embracing her.
“I think she is one who is really enjoying this journey and making the most of it.”
Up next, Skinner and the Red Rocks open Pac-12 meets on the road against No. 19 Washington Saturday at 2:30 p.m. (MST).