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Gophers women’s gymnastics freshman Mya Hooten is just getting started

Gophers’ gymnast Mya Hooten garnered back-to-back Big Ten Freshman of the Week award honors, and she’s only just beginning.
Image by Brad Rempel
Courtesy of Gopher Athletics

Freshman Mya Hooten has quickly become a point of consistency for the Gophers women’s gymnastics team — and she’s just getting started.

Hooten has been competing in three out of four events for Minnesota — bars, vault and floor — and, in the month of February, Hooten garnered back-to-back Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards, an Event Specialist award and earned career-highs in the vault (9.875) and bars (9.875) while winning the bar title.

“I was actually shocked that I got it two times in a row because that’s what every freshman works for,” Hooten said. “It’s just crazy that I won it two times.”

For Hooten, gymnastics has always played a significant role in her life. She was introduced to gymnastics at the age of 3 and started her competitive career at 7 years old.

“I learned that I actually had potential when I got offered in 10th grade,” said Hooten, a Woodbury, Minnesota native.

And who offered? Gophers women’s gymnastics head coach Jenny Hansen offered her a chance to play for her home state and a Big Ten university. As soon as Hansen was allowed to have contact with Hooten, she jumped on the opportunity immediately.

“I’ve been following her for quite a while,” Hansen said. “She’s just an incredibly talented young woman. We could see a lot of potential way back then.”

Hansen enjoys recruiting hometown gymnasts and understands the importance of them representing their home state.

“We love having Minnesota kids on our team,” Hansen said. “To be able to keep someone of her caliber in the state of Minnesota and be part of our program was really important for us.”

Hooten grew up competing for her hometown. However, toward the end of her high school career, things at her club in Woodbury were not going as well as she hoped. So, she decided to transfer to another club in Chanhassen, Minnesota, but the daily 45-minute commutes and time commitment with gymnastics took a toll on her academic performance.

As a result, Hooten’s coach offered her an opportunity to live with one of her teammates in Chanhassen for the remainder of her senior year. She accepted the invitation and did not look back; it allowed for a shorter commute and more time and focus for both academics and gymnastics.

Transition to campus

Although Hooten arrived on campus later than in a typical season due to the pandemic, she immediately impressed her fellow Gophers teammates with her abilities.

“As soon as she stepped foot on campus and started working with the girls, our team was like, ‘Wow,’” Hansen said. “That’s pretty awesome for them to see that. They see a lot of good gymnasts, but they were pretty happy she joined our team.”

Hooten has quickly learned what it takes to transfer her abilities from competing in club to the collegiate level. Senior leaders on the team always remind her to trust herself.

“The seniors always give me a pep talk,” Hooten said. “It reminds me that I just need to trust myself and know that I can do it.”

Seniors Lexy Ramler and Ona Loper have played critical roles in impacting Hooten ever since she joined the team.

“I look up to [Ramler and Loper], their work ethic and how hard they work,” Hooten said. “They are so consistent in practice and I realize what I do in practice will help me do better at the meet.”

Being a freshman, sometimes Hooten gets too excited when she’s ready to compete at meets. Hansen and the coaching staff have been working with her to help her control her energy in a way that positively impacts her routines. To help her stay calm and in the moment, Hooten says the best way for her to remain calm is by breathing and reminding herself that she knows how to do her routines.

The energy and enthusiasm in college meets are higher than what they were at the club level. As Hooten gains more experience, Hansen is confident that she will recognize the control she carries over her emotions and knows the importance of this to be able to perform at a high level.

“I think a lot of athletes go into meets thinking they have to do more, be more, be better,” Hansen said. “If they just do what they do every day, they don’t have to do anything more special, bigger, harder, just do it the same way. And I think she’s been taking that to competition and it’s been serving her really well.”

Hansen has had and continues to have high praise for Hooten, who the team has consistently counted on for the bars, the vault and the floor throughout her freshman season.

“She’s got some incredible natural gifts,” Hansen said. “She’s very powerful and she’s got what we call ‘air awareness.’ She knows where her body is at all times when it’s flipping and in the air. She’s been wonderful to have on the team.”

Although Hooten competes in many events for the Gophers each meet, her favorite event is the floor event. She believes that this is her strongest event, and Hansen thinks so as well.

“I think floor is definitely her stand-out event,” Hansen said. “She’s got incredible tumbling and amplitude when she does that. She has a lot of personality. She cannot wait to get out there. She loves to compete.”

Hooten’s passion and energetic personality can be seen through interactions with her teammates, judges and coaches on a meet-to-meet basis. The life she brings to events is something that Hansen enjoys watching every meet, mostly because she does not see so much animation, mainly out of freshman competitors.

“She brings a lot of energy to what she does,” Hansen said. “She’s a great, bubbly personality. She’s very fun to be around in the gym. I think when she competes, you just feed off of that.”

A big part of why Hooten has so much energy throughout the meets, besides her personality, is that her Gophers teammates also bring a lot of energy to the meets. This energy is her favorite thing about being a part of the team.

“I just love their support and having them trust me in the lineups and stuff is really nice,” Hooten said. “It’s just so, so much fun. It’s the best after my routines when my team comes hugging me. It’s the best feeling.”

The future

While Hooten has been competing in three of the four events during meets, she is working on the balance beam in practice in hopes of competing all-around in the near future of her young Gophers career. If she can become consistent at the balance beam, she will help fill the gaps when the Gophers lose their all-around seniors in Ramler and Loper next season.

For the remainder of the season, Hooten hopes to continue how she started the season: strong and consistent. Hansen knows Hooten has yet to hit her full potential, but she has very high hopes for her.

“She’s got the capability of scoring a 10 on floor,” Hansen said. “I think she’s that good. I think she can fight for championships. Her floor team could win the Big Ten championships. She could be an All-American. I really think those are things she can shoot for. … She’s done a phenomenal job. This is a strange year for everybody. But she’s adjusted really well and I think she’s making the state of Minnesota really proud.”

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