When Sarah Zigler, a senior on the Missouri gymnastics team, transferred from Arizona State her sophomore year, she didn’t have a scholarship, didn’t know anyone on the team and was competing in only one event — the uneven bars.
Now, going into the Tigers’ last home meet of the season tonight against Southeast Missouri State, she’s on scholarship, she’s competing in three events, she’s engaged, and she’s having the best season of her career.
She won her first vault title earlier this year, scoring a career-high 9.850 against Arkansas on Jan. 13, a Friday no less. And she’s tied her career-high on bars, a 9.875, four different times this season, winning the individual title at the Cat Classic meet, among others.
Zigler says bars have always been her favorite event. A bit on the tall side for a gymnast, she’s listed at 5 feet, 4 inches, but looks taller, the bars give her an opportunity to use her height to her advantage.
“It’s just completely different than the other three events,” she said. “You’re swinging, and the other events you’re running, jumping and flipping.”
Watching her lithe frame spinning effortlessly around the apparatus, it’s easy to see why judges are impressed. As she makes a transition move from the upper to the lower bar, becoming airborne to cover the roughly 7-foot distance, it looks for a moment as if she’s frozen in mid-air. Gravity takes a water break.
Zigler enjoys stretching the laws of physics. She’s also a pole vaulter on the track team, which she says coincides with the skills she uses in gymnastics.
“Everything that you do in the air is almost exactly what we do on the bars,” she said. “It’s just different because you’re running down a runway with a big, long 13-, 14-foot pole.”
It’s that kind of athleticism that coach Rob Drass said made him believe in what Zigler was capable of when she joined the team as a walk-on.
“We saw an athlete that had some raw potential that was never really fine-tuned,” he said. “We thought, ‘Here, we have a diamond in the rough.’”
Zigler worked hard to polish her skills, improving her bar routine and adding new events to her competitive repertoire. First vault, then floor exercise.
“That’s exactly what you want from a walk-on,” Drass said. “Someone that continues to improve, continues to get better, works hard and has the right kind of attitude.”
She earned a scholarship this season and has become one of a trio of senior leaders for the Tigers, along with Jodie Heinicka and Lauren Schwartzman. All three will be honored in a ceremony at tonight’s meet.
Heinicka is one of Zigler’s closest friends on the team and remembers when they used to butt heads occasionally when Zigler first arrived.
“We’re just very similar,” Heinicka said. “Very strong-minded.”
Bars is also Heinicka’s best event. She owns a career-high 9.950 and said the two have developed an amicable rivalry over the years, which has helped them both improve.
“If she beats me, I’m happy for her; If I beat her, she’s happy for me,” Heinicka said. “It’s a good, friendly competition.”
Zigler has come achingly close to cracking the 9.9 mark on the event all season long. But if you’re expecting her to complain, you’ve got the wrong person.
“I would like the 9.9,” she said. “But if I don’t deserve it, than I shouldn’t be given it.”