The precision with which MyKayla Skinner performs her gymnastics is almost robotic. But rest assured, the Utah sophomore is human, going so far as to admit she can feel pressure when performing.
Weighing on her now is the awareness that matching what she achieved in her rookie year is a huge challenge.
Skinner enjoyed a freshman year like few have, becoming the NCAA all-around runner-up, winning the NCAA floor exercise title and the Pac-12 all-around, floor and vault titles. She also had 43 victories, which included a school-record 12 all-around wins and hit 56-of-56 routines.
Skinner acknowledges the expectations of equaling her 2017 performance weigh on her some. But in the next breath, she describes how she plans to be even better in 2018.
She has worked on her vault to get more height, has added a release on bars and has a new combination in her balance beam routine. Floor is the only area that Skinner isn’t changing much, but Utes co-coach Megan Marsden said it would be hard to add anything.
“Her tumbling is already at a ridiculous level,” Marsden said.
One of the reasons Skinner is being so ambitious going into 2018 is she benefited from being with the team in the offseason, unlike her freshman year when she joined the team in the fall due to commitments with the national team.
“It has been a whole different vibe this year,” Skinner said.
Marsden knows the pressure gymnasts can feel in trying to live up to expectations, and believes she knows Skinner well enough that she isn’t too worried about any sort of sophomore slump.
“She has created an expectation, but she thrives on that on some level,” Marsden said. “She admits she gets nervous, but she directs that nervous energy and adrenaline in the right direction and typically performs even a little better in those situations.”
Marsden also believes Skinner is in a different league altogether, as pointed out by her freshman year, and doesn’t need much coddling.
“It’s not easy to be your best your freshman year,” Marsden said. “It’s a whole new game, learning how the collegiate things work. You have new coaches, new gym, new living situations and school and it creates a situation where most are just trying to tread water. MyKayla wasn’t doing that, she was winning the race.
“There is something special about her. The desire to win is big and she doesn’t vocalize that a lot, but she shows it with her actions.”
BYU at Utah
When • Friday, 7 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network
In addition to more practice time, Skinner benefits from having a seasoned team surrounding her.
“I’m closer with the girls and we have good chemistry this year,” Skinner said. “The training has been awesome.”
But the solid team can help her in other ways too, Marsden said. The Utes were inconsistent at times last year, preventing the buildup of scores that can help gymnasts who are later in the lineup such as Skinner.
“Every star needs that support to do great things,” Marsden said. “This year we have a great cast if we are fortunate to stay healthy. I don’ t know if we will use her last everywhere, but floor there is no question.”
Despite the reputation and accolades she is earning, Skinner is humble and there seems to be no pushback or jealousy from teammates. However, if there is one area Marsden will continue to emphasize with Skinner, it is to continue to be a good teammate.
“I talk to her a lot about how the individual accomplishments paled in comparison to winning team things,” Marsden said. “Those are the things I want her to experience now. I think she can take this team on quite a ride.”
No pressure at all, then.
Of note • NCAA floor exercise champion and all-around runner-up…Eight-time All-American…Utah MVP…Earned two 10.0s as a freshman…Set freshman Utah scoring record in all-around (39.775)…Set record for most Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week awards (7) and Freshman of the Week awards (6).