The first impression Cristal Isa creates with her big smile and constant laugh is one of a permanently happy person.
For Isa though, things weren’t always joy-filled last year as her promising freshman season ended prematurely with an elbow injury just four meets into the season.
“It was my first major injury that took me out of competition so it was disappointing,” she said. “It was hard missing out a year.”
Now, though, the smile is back and so is Isa.
Isa could be one of the Utes’ biggest contributors in the 2020 season, which begins against Kentucky Friday in the Huntsman Center.
Isa, who scored a 9.925 on the uneven bars in her college debut, should be one of the Utes’ top performers on that event as well as the beam.
“I’m 110 percent,” she said. “I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I’m hoping to compete in the all-around. I’m ready for it.”
ABOUT CRISTAL ISA
Vitals • 5-foot-3, Sophomore.
Hometown • Henderson, Nev.
Of note • Was 7-of-7 in routines last year before an elbow injury ended her season…Earned a 9.925 in her first uneven bars routine…Won the beam event at Oregon State…two-time Junior Olympic national champion on the bars..Four-time Nevada state all-around champion (2015-18).
The Utes need her to be ready, considering they are going through one of the biggest rebuilding seasons in recent years, having lost key seniors MaKenna Merrell-Giles and Kari Lee and also MyKayla Skinner.
“She is an invaluable competitor for us,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “She has some unique skills on bars and beam and she is capable of performing high level routines on floor and vault.”
Even though she competed just seven routines last year before the injury forced her out of the lineup, Isa still said being around the team was good experience. Being around gymnasts such as Lee, Skinner and Merrell-Giles gave her a good idea of how to carry herself and also learn what was to be expected of being a Utah gymnast.
“As a freshman you have so much energy, I didn’t know how to contain it,” she said. “But I learned the ropes and learned how to carry myself. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I feel like I’m ready for this season.”
Isa looked ready at the team’s Red Rocks preview, showing off her routines with confidence. Oftentimes when gymnasts miss major parts of a season, they come back even more fit than they were before the injury.
Isa is no exception and Farden believes her limited NCAA experience isn’t a big deal, considering she has an extensive background of competition.
Isa was a two-year member of the USA Junior Olympic National team, placing third in the all-around in 2017 and fourth in 2018.
“She is a highly accomplished athlete,” Farden said. “She has the ability to compete well on both the intricate and power events week in and week out.”
For now, Isa isn’t putting too many expectations on herself. She wants to get a few competitions behind her first, but she is eager to get the 2020 season going. In many ways it feels like a re-do for her.
“I want to stay healthy,” she said. “Last year was disappointing because I had big goals for myself so I’m excited for this year.”
UTAH VS. KENTUCKY
At the Huntsman Center
When • Friday, 6 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network