When Southern Utah head coach Scotty Bauman first saw Karley McClain, he had no idea it was her. It was an ordinary meet day for his then-level 5 daughter, and he was there to support her. Another gymnast caught his eye, and it just so happened to be Karley. Better yet, what he also didn’t know at the time was he was sitting next to her mother, gushing about Karley.
“I’m just sitting there talking to her, and I’m like, ‘Hey, you gotta watch this kid over here in the blue leotard at Hunt’s. She’s going to be amazing. She’s going to be incredible. She’s going to be awesome. I guarantee it,’” Bauman said. “Then I [found] out when we started recruiting Karley for real when [her mother] told me about that conversation with her like eight years earlier.”
Karley’s journey started just like almost any other gymnast but with her sister Kennedi by her side. When the two were young, they had a cousin in gymnastics. They would do handstands and cartwheels everywhere, so their parents decided to put them in the sport as a way to channel their energy in a safe environment. They loved it, and the rest is history.
The journey wasn’t always easy, but it was made easier knowing they had each other, in and out of the gym. The life lessons from the sport were an added benefit.
“[Kennedi] actually did quit, I think one time maybe two, just because she didn’t think that she enjoyed it as much as she really did,” Karley said. “But I think me staying in it [encouraged] her and [showed] her that it really is a fun sport and it’s rewarding. I think that showed her it’s hard, but it’s also fun.”
Though Karley is almost four years older, she and Kennedi have a close relationship. Growing up they shared a room together and at one point even shared a bed. Beyond the gym they enjoy doing typical sister activities together, whether it be having photoshoots, shopping, going for drives or staying up late.
“Kennedi’s definitely my best friend, and we literally did everything together—well, we still do when I’m home,” Karley said. “Any chance that we do get to see each other, we’re together 24/7.”
Gymnastics extended their bond into a shared sport. While they weren’t always at the same level, the connection remained. Eventually, both reached level 10.
“Once I was a level 10 with [Karley], it was so fun being able to compete and be at practice with her all day. And then coming home, we’d be able to talk about practice. We always knew what was going on in each other’s lives and stayed super close,” Kennedi said.
As Karley advanced in the sport, she made a name for herself and attracted more attention. The little level 5 Bauman once watched had blossomed, something he noted that only increased when the sisters switched from Hunt’s to All American Gymnastics. She gained accolades, though Bauman remembers keeping an eye on her long before that, in part because she’s a Utah local.
“Long before she was the level 10 national champion or the level 10 all around champion, we had our eye on Karley,” Bauman said. “We’d been watching her since she was a little kid.”
Growing up in Utah helped Karley too. She knew others who went to Southern Utah and hadn’t heard anything negative about it. When she visited campus, she loved the environment and the way people were positive, kind and encouraging. “The coaches definitely always want your best, not even just inside the gym, but school. And they want you to have the best lifestyle that you can,” Karley added.
It couldn’t be matched by any other school Karley visited. Though she had other offers, “it didn’t feel as inviting,” Karley said. “And the environment here was so different. You knew when you came here, you were going to be a part of something special.”
At Southern Utah, Karley quickly became a consistent and strong contributor. “She absolutely thrives under pressure. The bigger the meet, the bigger this environment is when Karley absolutely brings her A game to the table,” Bauman said.
Though Karley was already at Southern Utah, it didn’t affect Bauman’s recruitment of Kennedi.
“We were looking at Kennedi just as hard as we were looking at Karley the whole time. We knew she was a very, very talented athlete,” Bauman said.
Still, Bauman can’t deny the similarities.
“They come from the same two people. They have the same kind of gymnastics. If you watch those two up on balance beam, it’s weird. They both have that aura about them when they attack balance beam,” Bauman said. “Karley and Kennedi are both very strong power athletes. You can’t have enough good leg kids on your team, that’s for sure. They can do beam, too. That’s always a nice addition.”
The core of the recruiting process was similar for both sisters: sending in and updating videos, visiting schools, and narrowing options down.
“For Kennedi, she was committed before the pandemic, so I feel like that helped her to at least already have somewhere that she was committed and wanted to go versus having to stress about other colleges not being able to watch her and get that type of experience from other coaches,” Karley said. “For me, not having to experience that in the recruiting process, it helps that the coaches could come to my club gym and watch and everything wasn’t online or through Zoom.”
Having Karley to look up to was an added benefit for Kennedi. With Karley already at Southern Utah, she’d been able to give Kennedi insight about life there and what to expect, inside gymnastics and out of it.
“[I’ll encourage] her to do things outside of the gym when she has time and to have fun and while she’s younger to take advantage of the time she has,” Karley said.
There’s also plenty Karley has learned from Kennedi. One thing she noted centered around Kennedi’s attitude while going through setbacks or other roadblocks in her gymnastics career.
“With her being injured last season, I never really heard her talk negatively about it. She just was ready to start recovery and was thinking ahead and was ready for the next step. It was always positive, and she just is ready to get back to doing gymnastics,” Karley said. “I’ve learned to always look for a positive outcome and put aside the negative things.”
While Karley is a senior this season, she’s eligible for an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic. When Bauman and the rest of the coaching staff found out about the opportunity, “we stopped recruiting instantly. We stopped signing or offering out our 2022 scholarships because we know what that senior class brings to the table. And we’re extraordinarily loyal to the people that are on the team. If you’re a junior and a senior on this team, I’m going to do everything I can within my power to make sure I take care of you,” Bauman said.
It’s an opportunity she and Kennedi are looking forward to, and it’s also a big factor in Karley’s decision to come back for a fifth year.
“In club, it was so fun competing together. To be able to do that for my last year will be really exciting and fun and push us to be our absolute best together,” Karley said. “We know how to push each other, and when we do have a bad day, we know how to help each other.”
It’s something Kennedi is looking forward to as well.
“We haven’t been able to compete together in so long,” Kennedi said. “Being able to be together for her last year and my first year down there will bring back those memories of club gymnastics but in college now.”
Bauman echoed the sentiment. “She gets to compete with Ken. Why wouldn’t you do that?”
Article by Tara Graeve
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