ASU gymnastics exceeds expectations during 2018 season

The Sun Devils' accomplishments include a NCAA regional berth for the first time in four years

In the 2017 season, the ASU women’s gymnastics program finished out the year with a 3-10 regular season record, a last place finish at the Pac-12 Championships and one Sun Devil finishing 16th on beam at the 2017 NCAA Regionals. 

Fast forward one year and the Sun Devils boast a 6-8 regular season record with monumental wins over rival Arizona and numerous ranked opponents including Stanford and Cal. They trekked south to Tucson, where they improved to a sixth place finish at the 2018 Pac-12 Championships before receiving a berth in NCAA Regionals. After finishing third overall in the meet, freshman phenom Cairo Leonard-Baker qualified as an all-around contender for the 2018 NCAA Championships.

The Sun Devils began their season with historic numbers right off the mat. In its first road test of the season, then-No. 14 ranked ASU took down No.16 West Virginia, earning a 49+ cumulative tally in each event for the first time since the 2007 season. At the time, the Sun Devils had recorded their best score in ten years with a finish of 196.475.

The success wouldn’t stop there, as numerous Sun Devils continued to make their mark on the team. One of those gymnasts who rose early on was Leonard-Baker. The freshman from Oakland placed first in numerous meets, ultimately catapulting her to earn Pac-12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Week honors throughout the year. 

By late February, Leonard-Baker had captured her fifth Pac-12 honor. She was accompanied in the same category by Utah sophomore MyKayla Skinner and Cal freshman Toni-Ann Williams as one of three gymnasts in conference history to win the award five or more times.

One of the things that pushed the Sun Devils this season was the slogan of “Prove It.” The term was more than just a slogan for the Sun Devils, it was a way to compete on and off the mat and was there to help them achieve the goals they had set in preseason.

Leonard-Baker wasn’t the only Sun Devil to “prove it” this season. Junior transfer Anne Kuhm made her mark as well placing in the top-10 in the all-around (39.400) and floor (9.900) at the Pac-12 Championships. Kuhm made her mark on each of the rotations throughout the season, including career bests on vault and floor against rival Arizona with scores of 9.900 and 9.925 respectfully.

For the first time since 2014, the Sun Devils earned a trip to NCAA Regionals. The team had high expectations heading into the meet and did not falter. They finished third overall, which is remarkable considering the last time they reached Regionals they placed fourth with a score of 194.425.

Leonard-Baker and coach Jay Santos garnered more regalia in both the Pac-12 Championships and Regionals. Santos received Pac-12 Coach of the Year and NACGC/W South Central Region Head Coach of the Year, while Leonard-Baker earned Pac-12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Year.

Their record may not seem historic to the naked eye, but for a program that struggled tremendously over the past few seasons, the amount of progress the Sun Devils have made is noteworthy.

In 2016, the Sun Devils went 0-8, the previous year, they battled injuries and a lack of depth and finished eighth at the Pac-12 Championships, but in 2018, the Sun Devils triumphed and went beyond expectations.

To conclude the season, the Sun Devils earned their highest final ranking in national standings since 2007, finishing the year at No. 23. Leonard-Baker will represent the Sun Devils as she competes in the All-Around at the NCAA National Championships in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 20 and 21.


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

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