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Wildcat gym star goes it alone in NCAAs

Junior qualifies in the floor exercise with a 9.9 score

Sarah Tomcyzk is the only member of UA's gymnastics team who qualified to compete at the NCAA national meet.

Sarah Tomcyzk is the only member of UA's gymnastics team who qualified to compete at the NCAA national meet.

It’s lonely these days in the Mary Roby Training Center, and gymnast Sarah Tomcyzk has to call up the echo of this season’s noise in her head for inspiration.

“I wish I had my teammates here with me,” says the Arizona junior, who will compete in the NCAA individual event finals for the floor exercise Saturday in Lincoln, Neb.

UA was not among the 12 team finalists, so coach Bill Ryder and his assistants are providing the proper sense of urgency and practice for Tomcyzk.

She qualified by scoring a 9.9 in her floor routine, set to Janet Jackson music, at the NCAA regional – prompting Ryder to dream ahead.

Tomcyzk will be Arizona’s only senior competitor next year. Still, UA, with four proven sophomores, will be talented.

“Next year will be Sarah’s team,” Ryder said.

Tomcyzk has a chance to score in the NCAAs, said Ryder, because she’s just working up to her potential. The coach has learned not to doubt Tomcyzk.

Ryder had reservations of her competing at all as a freshman, when she was known as Sarah Specht before getting married.

“She couldn’t bend her elbow,” he said, “but then during surgery they discovered the reason: all this scar tissue. It was amazing; the right arm was free.”

Tomcyzk hasn’t been injured since, “other than the normal hurts,” she says.

“My body is holding up pretty well,” she says, citing the usual pounding and falling that gymnasts face as youngsters.

Then came the marriage her sophomore year to fellow student and Illinois hometown friend Peter Tomcyzk.

“He (Ryder) was nervous about my getting married,” she says. “He was afraid for the dynamics of the team. But as it turned out, I spend more time with the team (school days and practice) than I did before.”

Deeply religious, Tomcyzk was confident she was making the right decision, not from emotion but from her groundedness.

“It worked out and she’ll lord it over me forever,” Ryder said.

It was a storybook romance.

“I broke my ankle in high school and he used to carry my books home,” Tomcyzk said. “We were friends, hanging out a little.

“Then in college, we dated. He transferred to Arizona (from Illinois State) because I was here.”

The proposal rated a “10.”

“It was after our first meet last year,” she said. “He brought roses and proposed in front of the team on bended knee at the airport.”

Tomcyzk is preparing for the NCAAs by practicing all four college events (vault, bars, beam and floor), although she will compete only in the floor. She’s a perfectionist and way ahead of most her age in maturity, Ryder said.

She’s an English major and Spanish minor and wants to teach in high school. An Academic All-American and three-time UA Academic Champion, she will do post-graduate work in teaching at UA.

The perfectionist part comes as a necessary tool of any gymnast.

“The least little thing can hurt your score,” she said. “A bit of a side leap, a stumble, and your landing has to be perfect.”

So what’s in a score, anyway?

“She does one of the best floor routines I’ve seen, so dynamic, so energetic,” Ryder said.

“She makes it look easy.”



Where: Lincoln, Neb.

Team sessions (12): Thursday (Stanford, Penn St., Oklahoma, LSU, Georgia, Florida, UCLA, Utah, Illinois, Oregon St., Arkansas, Alabama)

Super Six final: Friday

Saturday: Individual event finals (including UA’s Sarah Tomcyzk), 6 p.m.

TV (tape): May 9, 11 a.m., CBS

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