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Sophomore gymnast Skye Keri competes in the floor event on Feb. 24.

Credit: Giuliana DiBenedetto

Penn gymnastics is on the rise. This year, the team earned its highest National Qualifying Score ever, picking up wins at the Ivy Classic and the Gymnastics East Conference Championships along the way. For one gymnast, the season was capped off with an even sweeter title: Gymnast of the Year.

But for sophomore Skye Kerico, the GEC Championships felt like any other meet. She was quick to point out that she “didn’t have the best vault” and wasn’t sure if she had won the All-Around that day. She didn’t even mention her first-place finish on Balance Beam, or the five other All-Around wins she had picked up in the regular season. 

Even at her best, Kerico constantly looks for ways to improve. “She's not gonna ask for anything,” assistant coach Cassie Hageman said. “She's not going to take anything for granted… and I think that people really look up to that.”

This kind of work ethic was instilled in Kerico from her early days at the gym. She trained alongside future Olympians and even considered pursuing elite gymnastics before seeing her teammates' sacrifices for the sport. 

“I saw a lot of my teammates, what they had went through and sacrificed and they were very successful," Kerico said. "But I was like I don’t know if this is what I want… if you’re an elite gymnast it’s your whole life, you know?”

In the 2019-2020 season, Kerico moved to train alongside her future teammate Campbell Marr at First State Gymnastics until an Achilles tear — and the pandemic — took her away from the sport for nearly two years.

Coming back from an injury of that severity isn’t easy for anyone, but for Kerico, the “[time] after the surgery is the worst part.” The pain, the waiting, and the recruiting. Or, the lack thereof.

In May of 2019, the NCAA cracked down on early recruiting by not allowing collegiate coaches to contact prospective athletes until June 15th of the athlete’s sophomore year of high school. Before these rules were established, college coaches were permitted to contact coaches of gymnasts even in their pre-teens to begin the recruiting process. In Kerico’s case, she found herself committed to the University of Georgia in seventh grade.

But after the Achilles injury, the dreaded call came. 

“I got a call and the [coaches at UGA] were like, we're gonna revoke your scholarship," Kerico said. "So that was the point of like [realizing], alright, I have no leg. No college scholarship. What did I do all this work for?”

Thankfully, Kerico’s family was there to support her through the injury, a final move to train at Rock Gymnastics, and her return to “normal” public high school life. Realizing she didn’t want to leave her family behind, and that she wanted to pursue business, Penn was the perfect fit. “I'm very happy the NCAA put this rule, because you can't think long term when you're in that stage of your life,” said Kerico. “I'm not going to be a gymnast my whole life, and recognizing that…was a big, big shift.”

Kerico’s short time at Penn hasn’t been without its setbacks, though. Midway through her freshman season, she injured her ankle. Hageman admired her strength in coming back from another foot injury, even when Kerico was sometimes frustrated at not being at her best. 

“I think she's just like a head down, eyes forward kind of kid,” Hageman said. “Her [humility] is one of the qualities that I really appreciate the most about her.”

The injury kept Kerico out of the floor, and thus the All-Around, until several weeks into her sophomore season. Taking it slow and avoiding injuries, Kerico found her groove, competing in the All-Around nine times and winning at six meets. Her accomplishments won her first-team all-conference on every single event — even floor — and All-Around, making her the only gymnast in the conference to do so. 

Finally, at the Gymnastics East Conference Championships, the sophomore accepted the highest honor: Gymnast of the Year. The last Penn gymnast to receive the award? None other than head coach Kirsten Becker. Kerico said she celebrated by “[going] to bed. The next day I did homework.”

She isn’t stopping here, either: she’s working on upgrading her vault to a one-and-a-half-twisting Yurchenko to have a 10.0 start value on the event next season. 

“She knows that she can [qualify to regionals],” said Hageman. “And she’s still striving for more. I'll never forget the one time, I think she went like 9.875 on bars, and she [said], 'but my handstands!'”

Looking ahead to next year, it would be easy to feel the pressure. Kerico insists “not putting pressure on myself is the key.” Just like her conference win on the balance beams, competing in gymnastics is a mental sport first. 

For Kerico and the Quakers, it’s nothing but a winning mindset going into next season. 

“I want to break the record again,” Kerico said. “So one day, someone comes here, and they’re like ‘okay I want to do better than her.’ I want that mentality for them moving forward. Just keep going.”