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Utah freshman MyKayla Skinner can't remember the last time she had a real summer break; for the 2016 Olympic alternate, it has been full go for gymnastics.

So why, she wonders, would she stop now just because her rookie collegiate season has come to a close?

"The work for 2018 starts now," she said on April 15, even as the confetti that marked the close of the 2017 season was still floating inside Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, with the Utes finishing fifth at the NCAA championships. "This has been such a fun season and how we did missing three people, I know we are going to come back even stronger next year."

So fair warning, Utah foes, if 2017 was a "learning experience," in the words of co-coach Tom Farden, then 2018 might just be the year of the Utes.

Opponents such as Oklahoma, LSU and UCLA will be strong too, but anyone who followed the Utes can't help but think next season could be special for Utah. The Utes just need a little more luck than they had this season.

For the most part, the Utes were able to make up for the January season-ending injuries to freshman Kim Tessen and sophomore Sabrina Schwab, with gymnasts such as Shannon McNatt, Missy Reinstadtler and Erica Muhaw gaining experience under fire.

McNatt in particular stood out for her work when sophomore Kari Lee joined the list of injured gymnasts before regionals.

McNatt, never having competed on the beam, scored 9.9 at regionals, 9.85 in the NCAA preliminaries and 9.7625 in the Super Six. The Utes would have loved to have had Lee in the lineup, since she is one of the best on beam, but McNatt's performances were encouraging to co-coach Megan Marsden, particularly since the last one came after normally unflappable Baely Rowe fell.

If McNatt had failed to hit, the Utes would have finished sixth instead of fifth in the NCAAs.

"Doing that routine in that kind of situation will give her something to remember next year," Marsden said.

Probably most encouraging for Utah fans is that the beam, an event that has created many woes for the Utes in recent seasons, has turned into an event of force.

The Utes graduate Rowe, one of their best on the apparatus, but her absence shouldn't be felt too much if Schwab and Lee can stay healthy next season.

Lee is looking ahead to 2018 like Skinner is. It took Lee until the end of the season to feel she had recovered enough from her Achilles tendon tear she suffered in 2017. Then the ankle sprain derailed her hopes of competing in the all-around in the postseason.

She figures she has earned a little good luck for 2018.

"Next year we are going to be strong," she said. "We have strong upperclassmen and the freshmen did well. We know all teams have injuries, those things happen, especially in gymnastics, but hopefully we can be healthy and strong all the way."

While one gymnast can't make a team, no one would argue the key to Utah's success in 2018 will rely much on Skinner, no matter the depth and talent around her.

Skinner had a season few gymnasts have enjoyed, setting a school record for most all-around wins (12) and being second only to Ashley Postell for most wins in a single season with 43. Postell had 47 wins in 2008, but had two more regular season competitions. Skinner went 56 of 56 in hit routines and became Utah's first NCAA floor champion since Missy Marlowe in 1992.

The 2016 Olympic alternate would deserve some rest after that rookie campaign, but she is contemplating going for the 2017 World Championships in November. A member of the 2014 gold medalist USA World Championship team, Skinner said she hasn't ruled out making another run at the Olympics in 2020 either.

Those Olympics seem a long ways off, but Skinner's gusto typifies the attitude of the current Utes — give them more, they are ready.

"Next year is going to be amazing," Skinner said. —

Utah's gymnastics season in review

Season highlights • Utah placed fifth at the NCAA Championships, after winning Pac-12 and regional titles. MyKayla Skinner became Utah's first NCAA floor champion since Missy Marlowe in 1992.

Season lowlights • The Utes suffered three key injuries, so one can only wonder what might have been if the squad was healthy.

Key loss • The Utes graduate Baely Rowe, who became a six-time All-American after earning first-team honors on the floor and second-team honors in the all-around at the 2017 NCAA Championships.

Key additions • The Utes have signed two gymnasts, Sydney Soloski from Calgary, Alberta, and Alexia Burch from Sparks, Nev. Burch is a power gymnast while Soloski is known for her style and dance.

Gymnast to watch • Freshman Missy Reinstadtler came to the Utes behind in her training because of a foot injury, but was forced into action early due to teammates' injuries. She put together a strong season, becoming the Pac-12 runner-up on bars. She delivered scores of 9.8375 (bars), 9.85 (beam) and 9.825 (floor) in the Super Six.

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