Cairo Leonard-Baker has already made her mark on ASU gymnastics

Leonard-Baker was named Pac-12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Week after her stellar performance over the weekend

Freshman Cairo Leonard-Baker is known by her teammates as one of the hardest workers in the gym, and her scores in the first two meets proved that she is already an important asset to the ASU gymnastics team.

Leonard-Baker has only competed in two meets as a Sun Devil but has already established herself as a dominant presence in the program. The freshman phenom garnered Pac-12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Week honors for her performance against then-No. 16 West Virginia on Jan. 14. 

“This is always what we thought she was capable of,” head coach Jay Santos said. “With a true freshman coming in, you never know if there's gonna be an adjustment faze, or if they're going to just jump right in.”

Santos said that he was not surprised by her early-season success. 

“She’s not the type of kid that gets rattled by the situations, and with her skill level, we knew she was capable of it,” Santos said. “Obviously she got off to a good start and really kicked it in last week.”

The freshman competed in all four events and boasted a career-best in each, her best performance being bars, where she earned a 9.925. She earned an all-around score of 39.475.

With those scores, she ranked first in three events and helped push the Sun Devils to a 196.475-195.875 victory, the best score since March 2, 2007 when the Sun Devils earned a 196.525 in a win over Washington.

Leonard-Baker noted that her performance made her emotional. 

“I was definitely really happy – I’m still really happy," Leonard-Baker said. "It doesn't even feel real, especially with it only being my second meet and all, but honestly I cried after the meet because I just had a lot of emotions everywhere."

Leonard-Baker's teammates speak highly of her, and she attributes her success to them, noting that the group gives a family atmosphere to the gym.   

“She is the hardest worker in the gym, and honestly, I called this,” junior Justine Callis said. “A couple months ago, I was like ‘(the) NCAA’s going to love her’ – we love her. She is such a delight to have in the gym, and she’s really sweet.”

While the star freshman from Oakland still has plenty of room to grow, it is clear from her performances over the last two weeks that she is headed towards a great career as a Sun Devil. 

“She has such a fire, and she’s doing a great job,” Callis said. “We can definitely expect some big things from her for sure.”

Her success can be linked, in part, to the culture of the program.

“No one's thinking about themselves – they’re thinking about how can we make the team better,” Leonard-Baker said. “Having people like that in your corner is always really nice, and the coaches are always there to support you.”

She admitted that while she did very well in her first two collegiate tournaments, there are still areas of her routine, like her beam and vault landings, that need improvement.

“I’ve competed beam at two meets, and I haven't stuck either, but I stick them at gym, so I’m just focusing on the right place to be every time.”

Leonard-Baker hopes to continue her success along with her teammates on Saturday, Jan. 20, when the No. 11 Sun Devils open up their Pac-12 slate with a meet at No. 20 Stanford at 3:00 p.m.


Reach the reporter at klbroder@asu.edu or follow @KellyB1459 on Twitter.

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