Maddy Stover performs on the balance beam during the Utah Utes vs. California Golden Bears Women's Gymnastics meet at the Hunstman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Feb.4, 2017. (Rishi Deka, Daily Utah Chronicle)

It’s that time of the year again where students are jumping back into the grind of a new school year. Whether it be an incoming freshman, a returning student or someone coming back to school after having not attended for several years, there is one major commonality between all college students: All of them are taking the next step.

For student athletes at the University of Utah, a new school year coincides with a new season. It’s another chance for opportunity, growth and success as individuals and as teams. For the Red Rocks, who won the Pac-12 Championship and finished fifth overall in the Super Six last season, they want to take their talents a step further and build upon last year’s success.

“Last year was a great season for us,” said co-head coach Megan Marsden. “The girls felt like they underperformed the year before and felt like they had something to prove. They called themselves the Tenacious 12. Our goal was to win the Pac-12 and make it to the Super Six, and we did both. This year we have similar goals, and we want to continue taking the next step.”

Last season, the Red Rocks featured standout freshman MyKayla Skinner. Skinner finished the year with a record seven Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week awards, a record six Pac-12 Freshman of the Week awards, finished a three-time Pac-12 Champion (all-around, floor, vault), three-time NCAA Regional champion (all-around, floor, vault), NCAA all-around runner-up and NCAA floor exercise champion.

With all the success Skinner has had, she continues to stay humbled and focused in helping her team continue to have success.

“I feel like I grew up and matured a lot in my freshman year,” Skinner said. “I took school off to compete at an elite level with the Olympics, and having to come back to school was a hard adjustment. But I got help, and I had confidence that I could do it. I learned a lot, and I know that if I go into this year with a positive mindset, have fun with the girls and work hard, we can have the best year yet.”

Over the course of her Utah career, senior Tiffani Lewis has earned the title of NCAA All-American (vault), is a two-time Pac-12 champion (vault, floor), two-time Pac-12 All-Academic recepient and three-time NACGC Scholar All-American. She knows the importance of starting each new academic year and gymnastics season off on the right foot.

“I knew that in order to be successful in the gym and in school, I had to get everything sorted out my freshman year,” Lewis said. “It’s been a process, but I knew academics came first. I set up a schedule for myself, balancing gym time, class time, time for homework as well as a social life. My college experience because of that balance has been incredible. You have to love what you do, and I’ve loved all of it.”

For the Red Rocks, they will continue to prepare in ways that will help them to be successful this season. Marsden explained it’s important to them to continue to put on a great show every meet. Their goal is another Pac-12 Championship and a top-three finish at the Super Six. The team feels all they need to focus on right now is themselves and proving what kind of competitors they are.

Marsden said it takes “consistent effort to be the best.” Whether that’s applied to sports or earning a degree, never giving up and hard work can help students and student-athletes take the next step in the direction they want to go as a new school year is back in session.

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Scott Funk is currently interning as a sports writer for The Daily Utah Chronicle. He completed an internship with Cumulus Media before writing for The Globe at Salt Lake Community College. He also recently completed an internship with ESPN 700.


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