WINSTON-SALEM — East Surry’s Katlin Isaacs won the state title in gymnastics’ highest level of competition this weekend.
Isaacs, a senior who took up gymnastics at the age of 5, edged out Alyssa Tucker by just one-tenth of a point at the Salem Gymnastics Sports Center.
In four events, Isaacs totaled a composite score of 37.4. She was second out of 18 finalists in the uneven bars and fourth in both the vault and balance beam.
There are some girls who are good in a category or two, but Katlin is well-rounded, said mom Lisa Isaacs.
Her best event is probably the floor exercise, but Katlin was bothered this year by a high-ankle sprain suffered back around Thanksgiving, according to Lisa.
Isaacs had three long tumbling runs in the floor exercise and needed a step on all three landings, but made no major mistakes. She finished ninth with a 9.15.
Not dropping off too much for any event is a key to a high finish. Lisavette Soto was first for both the floor exercise and the vault, but she was fifth in the uneven bars, then had a rough go on the balance beam. She finished with an 8.95 on the beam, while Isaacs was 9.50.
Soto finished fourth.
This is Isaacs’ fifth state championship, but the first at the highest level of competition.
At age 6, she competed in the level-four championship and won. Then after moving up in difficulty, she also won for the sixth, seventh and eighth levels — all before reaching the seventh grade.
For the past six years, she has been competing at level 10, the highest point, but she’s battled injuries, Lisa said.
In the seventh grade, Katlin suffered an elbow injury that resulted in a loss of proper blood supply to the joint, her mom said.
It was a scary time for the family, wondering if the bone would heal back properly. Pro football and baseball star Bo Jackson had to undergo hip-replacement surgery after a similar loss of blood flow caused his hip socket to deteriorate.
Isaacs had her arm in a cast for a month, then in a locking arm brace for two more months as the injury finally healed.
As a freshman, she scored high enough to qualify at the state level to advance to the regional and national levels. The family traveled out to Seattle, Wash., for the national meet.
In her sophomore year, Isaacs suffered a shoulder injury and needed surgery to repair the torn labrum.
She developed a winged scapula afterward, which is a condition where the shoulder blade gets out of position and can be seen pushing out from the back. Lisa Isaacs said doctors had warned that this is a problem for about one in 15 people who have this type of surgery and rehab.
Isaacs lost some rotation of her arm and needed months to get back to normal. By the time she was cleared to return to gymnastics, it was March 23 of last year, meaning she’d lost the chance to compete for the state title as a junior, too.
Still, she competed well enough to qualify for the regionals, then made first alternate for the national team.
So despite the high ankle sprain that limited her practices this winter, Isaacs came into this weekend intent on a strong performance.
“Winning was more shocking than anything,” the senior said. It was her first all-around meet of the season as she hadn’t competed in the vault since her ankle injury.
Going into the event, Isaacs and her coach, Jason Braun, knew exactly what she needed to do to qualify for the regional meet in Florida next month. The benchmark already was set at 34.0. As long as she could average an 8.5 per event, then Isaacs would qualify and have three more weeks to prepare and improve.
She easily made the qualifying score, along with a dozen other girls at the meet.
Braun said he was concerned about the vault going into Sunday. She had only been practicing that for the previous two weeks.
When a gymnast hits that springboard at full intensity, it can be 10 times the force of her body pressure on those ankles, Braun said.
The same goes for the impact on landing, but at least there the blow can be softened with pads. For the springboard, padding would reduce height, so the ankles have to take the pounding.
Isaacs said she wasn’t that worried about vault, but was concerned about the uneven bars. Then that turned out to be her highest finish.
Several others had mistakes in their bar routines, including Raleigh’s Hannah Sobhan, who fell flat on her stomach from the high bar.
Isaacs said she felt really bad for those girls. The gymnasts from the Raleigh school have come to Winston-Salem to practice with her before, so she feels pretty close to them.
The girls were split into small squads on Sunday to move among the events.
“In your group, you kind of become your own team,” Isaacs said. “Unlike other sports, we don’t talk down on each other.”
All six of the girls in her squad finished with a 34 or higher and will move on to the regional meet April 12 in Florida.
There will be gymnasts from eight states competing together, but only the top seven will qualify for the national tournament. The eighth and ninth finishers will be in the next-level event, the National Invitational Tournament. Both events will take place May 11 in Hampton, Va., according to Braun.
Reach Jeff Linville at email@example.com or at 719-1920.