UA GYMNASTICS

Patrick Finley: Cat with a singular purpose

2013-04-18T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:32:03Z Patrick Finley: Cat with a singular purposePatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Arizona's only participant in this week's NCAA gymnastics championships will be a Florida Gator.

As the nation's top all-around individual qualifier, senior Aubree Cristello has traveled to Pauley Pavilion without her UA teammates.

One of the 12 all-around competitors not on the 12 qualifying teams, she's been paired with the country's best squad.

So when Florida practices, she practices. When they compete, so does she.

Cristello was adopted by Utah's team for last year's championships. The Utes gave her a pin; she still talks to them on Facebook.

"It definitely feels lonely when I'm competing and I don't have my teammates screaming for me," she said, "and I'm with a team where I don't know any of them.

"It's a little awkward."

Friday should be awkward for Cristello anyway.

She's done gymnastics since age 3, and is walking away after nationals.

She has a marketing internship with Pepsi this summer and a gig in the athletic department's marketing office next year. The 3.5 GPA student will earn her degree by next May.

For weeks, the 21-year-old has counted, with sadness, the number of practices left in her career.

I met her at the UA's training facility Tuesday, her last day.

We figured she'd gone to the team's practice facility four hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year. (The offseason for gymnastics is shorter than its competitors.)

That's 4,000 hours - about 166 days and 16 hours - of her life. And that's just since coming to Tucson.

"Our senior meet was kinda a big thing," she said. "I cried like a baby at the end of my floor routine."

Cristello's the kind of person who can't pull weeds in her yard without getting every single one. It drives her crazy not to. (Note to self: Invite her to my house).

She wants to finish her career the same way, with the All-America honor given to the top eight all-around performers this weekend.

Even if the native New Yorker doesn't, her career should be remembered as one of the 10 greatest in program history.

This year, she became the only UA gymnast, ever, to be named first-team all-conference in all four years.

Only nine other UA female athletes, ever, across all sports, can say the same.

"I made history here," she said.

She's done 201 routines in college, and has missed only nine times.

With a good showing this weekend, she'll become only the second UA gymnast ever - Monica Bisordi was the other - to score more than 2,000 career points.

That's not leotard-retiring territory - Heidi Hornbeek earned the UA's lone honor after being named the nation's best senior in 2000 - but it's close.

"Is she one of the best gymnasts to ever wear an Arizona leotard? Most definitely," said UA coach Bill Ryden, a card-carrying rocket scientist. "Is she one of the most valuable? Absolutely."

Her consistency is rooted in hard work, but also pain tolerance. She said her "spine is crunching a ligament," but got a cortisone shot a month ago that made it manageable.

"If there's every such a thing as leading by example - Oh my God," Ryden said. "She's the best she's ever been right now."

Her sister agrees - and she should know. Ahnalee Cristello, two years her junior, is the team's manager.

"She looks the best ever right now," she said. "She's had an amazing last few meets."

Ahnalee will be on the floor during her sister's routine Friday.

She's not part of the UA's traveling party, though, and won't be sharing a hotel room with Aubree.

Rather, she'll be a rare familiar voice, cheering her sister on.

"Once you salute," Ryden said, "it's just you and the equipment."

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4658. On Twitter @PatrickFinley.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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