From J.O. to UT: Cristal Isa’s Journey to the Red Rocks

 

Everything was silent in Cristal Isa’s head. The University of Utah Red Rocks freshman had just stuck her first bar routine at the collegiate level during the first collegiate meet of her career. While over 13,000 fans were screaming and cheering for a perfect score, Isa didn’t look up into the stands.

“It was surprising at first because I didn’t know I could do that and when I stuck it, I saluted really fast because I wasn’t sure if I actually stuck and everyone was screaming, and it almost was quiet in my head, and it was just me. Everyone was so happy for me and I forgot to look up into the stands because it was so overwhelming. And I didn’t think I would get a score like that either. I set the bar kinda high for my first meet, but it was a great feeling and kinda a confidence booster,” Isa said.

January 5, 2019; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; University of Utah Gymnastics vs Penn State.
(Courtesy of the University of Utah)

Isa hails from Henderson, Nevada, and growing up she had always dreamed of being a Red Rock. At the time of the early recruiting, Isa wasn’t where the team would have wanted her to be. In fact, she had committed to another program before co-head coach Tom Farden had called her to extend an offer to her.

“Years later, when we ended up with a spot open, then we were able to revisit Cristal because, on the score sheets from meets, showed she was really making great progress and was someone who would be at the level to helps us. So in a way that early recruiting didn’t work very well for her initially, but in the end it did because the school she dreamed of coming to ended up with a scholarship available,” said co-head coach Megan Marsden about Isa’s early recruiting.

Before repping the crimson red, she was repping the red, white and blue as a member of the Junior Olympic National team (J.O.). Isa was a two-year member who won the national title on the bars both years on the team. During her last season on the team she tied for fourth place in the All-Around category.

In her first meet of the season, Isa competed in the vault and the bars. Her season high on the vault came during that first meet when she scored a 9.825. She took to the balance beam the opening meet of Pac-12 competition where she scored a 9.850.

But Isa has always succeeded on the uneven bars. Opening weekend, she scored a 9.925 on the bars and also earned the title of Pac-12 Freshman of the Week.

J.O. is more of an individual sport compared to the collegiate level. According to Marsden, the J.O. program is similar to the college scene due to the large number of competitions that each girl has to go through.

University of Utah women’s gymnastics freshman Cristal Isa performs on the uneven bars in a dual meet vs. Penn State at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019. (Photo by Kiffer Creveling | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

“J.O.s are more competitive and super focused, so you kinda have to learn how to hone in everything and compete, but here it’s a little bit easier because everyone has your back, and everyone wants you to do great but it’s also a little bit more pressure, so it kinda works for you in different ways,” Isa said.

According to Marsden, Isa thrives under the pressure of being in a competitive atmosphere. While other girls might crack under the pressure, it doesn’t faze Isa. She also said that, for most freshmen, it takes them the whole season to figure out how to navigate the collegiate gymnastics world, but Isa is figuring it out faster than others.  

“The pressure of competition makes her go up a notch rather than make her nerves make it so she isn’t quite as good. She’s usually a notch better when she is out there competing for us, and that’s a really good quality to have. Hitting routines and winning are in her DNA,” Marsden said.

Marsden also said that the future Isa has is bright. “I think she will make a name for herself very quickly in the collegiate gymnastics scene,” Marsden said.

Even though the season isn’t close to being over, Isa is just enjoying the ride. “I’ve only done three meets, but I’ve cried because I’ve been so happy and there is no feeling like it,” Isa said.

s.mora@dailyutahchronicle.com

@s_mora99

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