MyKayla Skinner, Georgia Dabritz, Ashley Postell, Theresa Kulikowski, Missy Marlowe, Kristen Kenoyer — Utah gymnastics’ record book reads like a who’s who in a history of collegiate superstars.
Every year it seems there are at least one or two gymnasts who produce huge scores for the Utes and assert themselves as among the elite gymnasts in the country.
But this year’s team is a little different. There isn’t, at least presently, that superstar who would be the logical go-to gymnast to carry the team. It’s even possible the Utes might not even have a gymnast compete regularly in the all-around, much less be in the running for the NCAA’s highest individual award.
While the lack of star power is different, it might not be a bad thing. In fact, the 2020 version of the Utes seem to embrace their no-name status as a challenge. Senior Missy Reinstadtler has said the Utes want to create their own identity while sophomore Sydney Soloski said it is time the Utes do things their own way.
“It’s the beauty of having a new team, having a new perspective,” she said.
It is a new approach for sure, one fans might be a little uncomfortable with, although coach Tom Farden seems to relish in the challenge it provides the team and coaching staff.
“We started talking to them about this in September and they embraced it as a new identity,” Farden said. “I told them there wasn’t a superstar, so they all had to take a piece of the pie and be the best they could together.”
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But what does that really mean for the Utes? Can they be a force on the national level without a top national individual? Who are they going to look to lead them when things get tough?
Granted, when it comes to all-around performers, the Utes have been blessed with superior talent in recent years. However, the number of all-around competitors has dropped as more and more teams lean on specialists to fill out their lineups.
The BYU Cougars, who have 25 gymnasts on their roster, believe this tactic can help them be a more competitive program. For the Utes, Farden merely sees it as the best way for the Utes to be competitive. Make no mistake, he would love to have Skinner on the roster as a senior, but she is off chasing her Olympic dream so Farden is working with the team he has, one built with young talent, some seasoned specialists and a transfer who is contributing on two events.
“Our theme this year is to just be the best you can be,” he said. “We may not have any all-rounders, but this team is all strong, so let’s see what they can do on their speciality events.”
Having good specialists is one thing, but the advantage of having star talent is often that gymnast is a natural leader, the one that the team looks to in crunch time. Can the team perform as well as it wants without a gymnast in that role? Farden believes the Utes can, primarily because Reinstadtler, Kim Tessen and Soloski are emerging as strong leaders.
“I saw that in our first away meet,” he said of the Utes’ recent win at the Maverik Center over BYU, Utah State and Southern Utah. “They were stepping up and explaining all the things like this is what we do for podium, this is how we do things when we leave and really taking the younger athletes under their wings.”
Scoring wise, Farden believes the Utes do have some stars in the making, pointing to the strong starts Tessen and Cristal Isa have had.
“They are on the cusp of breaking out,” he said. “But every lineup has capable athletes who and get big scores of 9.9 or higher,” he said. “The potential is there for high scores.”
Emilie LeBlanc, the junior transfer from Maryland, said the team knows it is facing a challenge but they like their position.
“It makes you push yourself in a different way,” she said. “You have to trust yourself and your abilities no matter what, even on an off day you have to be able to hit.”
Farden admits the makeup of the 2020 team is different, but he hopes fans are patient with the team, and believes there is plenty of drama for them to be engaged.
“The intrigue should excite our fanbase,” he said. “It’s a new look and it might make them be on the edge of their seat because they don’t know what is going to happen. There are plenty of stars on this team, they just want to do it their way.”