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Kragthorpe: Utes’ MyKayla Skinner deserved better treatment from Pac-12 gymnastics coaches

First Published      Last Updated Mar 22 2017 05:27 pm


Utah gymnastics » Resentment, agendas scuttle what should have been a no-brainer pick for Gymnast of the Year

The scene resembled the recent Academy Awards mix-up when the announcement came that someone other than the University of Utah's MyKayla Skinner was named the Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year after Saturday's conference meet at Stanford's Maples Pavilion.

No other envelope was floating around, though. Oregon State senior Kaytianna McMillan actually won the award, and UCLA's Kyla Ross was selected Freshman of the Year.

Coaches of the Pac-12's eight schools that sponsor gymnastics voted for McMillan and Ross over Skinner in each case, never mind that Utah won the conference meet and Skinner claimed the all-around title. And her victory hardly was a one-time phenomenon; she went unbeaten in all-around competition vs. Pac-12 opponents this season (including a tie with McMillan in Utah's loss at Oregon State in February).



Skinner has handled the snub graciously. "I guess I was a little bit disappointed," she said Monday, "but I've won enough awards."

So how could this happen?

"I don't know exactly why," said Ute co-coach Megan Marsden. "I do know that MyKayla Skinner is the best gymnast in the Pac-12 and it's difficult to deny that."

Forgive the Utah athletic program for becoming slightly paranoid about this stuff. The Utes' Jakob Poeltl was honored as the Pac-12 basketball Player of the Year in 2016. Otherwise, their stars continually are being overlooked for major awards, as voted by the conference's coaches. Nate Orchard (2014) and Gionni Paul (2015) were deserving candidates for the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in football and Delon Wright easily could have been the men's basketball Player of the Year in 2015.

This year's gymnastics winners were worthy of consideration, certainly. McMillan has won 24 event titles, scored a 10 on bars in one meet and twice was named the Pac-12 gymnast of the week. Those are impressive credentials, except when compared with Skinner's two 10s on floor, conference-record seven weekly awards, the all-around victory in the Pac-12 meet and her No. 2 all-around ranking in the country.

Same story with Ross, a 2012 Olympic team gold medalist, who posted four 10s between beam and bars and is ranked No. 1 on bars, but usually competes in only three events.

If the Gymnast of the Year recognition tends to be a career achievement award and McMillan is a senior, why have previous athletes won multiple Gymnast of the Year awards? And what's the explanation of Ross over Skinner as Freshman of the Year?

The only possible answer is resentment of Skinner's success, which is puzzling. She's a social media enthusiast, but since when is mild self-promotion unhealthy in this entertainment-driven sport?

Those are a lot of questions, with only guesses in response. "But I do know this: For us and for MyKayla, that team championship just comes in tight to the heart," Marsden said.

That's believable, because Skinner by all accounts has embraced the team dynamic of college gymnastics, after all these years of international competition and having to watch the Olympics as U.S. team alternate last August.

Yet she clearly deserved to be rewarded individually. The football and basketball coaches' snubs of Orchard, Paul and Wright were less egregious, even though the criteria seemingly kept changing. Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III was chosen over Orchard, even though Orchard was the better NFL prospect and recorded more sacks. Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner was picked over Paul, apparently because Buckner was about to become the No. 7 pick in the NFL draft and Paul would go undrafted, despite being a phenomenally productive college player.

That rationale would explain why Poeltl was voted ahead of Oregon's Dillon Brooks last year, but not why Oregon's Joseph Young had been chosen over Wright, an NBA first-round pick.

Maybe the media deserve some credit, while not having a vote in these awards. In gymnastics, a sport dependent on judging, more objectivity and fewer agendas would have produced the proper outcome.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

 

AT A GLANCE

Four Utes make all-conference teams

University of Utah star freshman MyKayla Skinner picked up first-team Pac-12 Conference honors in four categories Tuesday. Skinner, who won the all-around at the conference meet Saturday, was named to the first team for all-around, vault, bars and floor. Senior Baely Rowe grabbed first-team honors for the all-around and beam, while picking up second-team honors for vault, bars and floor. Sophomore MaKenna Merrell was named to the second team for the all-around and vault, while junior Tiffani Lewis earned second-team honors for floor.


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