Alex Zois had just finished second in the all-around competition with a then-career-high 39.400 score last March when her 2018 season was rapidly cut to an end.
A screw in her knee from surgery three years prior had become infected with a “spontaneous” staph infection, causing painful swelling and requiring immediate surgery to remove the screw and flush out the area.
“People lose their limbs when that happens,” head coach Margie Foster-Cunningham said. “And she fought back.”
Zois missed the team’s final meet of the regular season and their third-place finish at the East Atlantic Gymnastics League Championships. She did not get to compete with her team at the NCAA Championship.
Now nearly one year since her unexpected setback, fifth-year Zois capped off her Senior Day performance with a career-high 39.425 showing in the all-around competition Friday.
Zois did not begin training at full capacity for the 2019 season until September, but she has since notched seven first-place finishes in all-around competition, and her first-place finish Friday night marked the third meet in a row Zois has topped the field in the event.
“You’re never going to see that kid say she’s tired,” Foster-Cunningham said. “She is relentless and that is what you’re seeing here, the benefits of that type of approach to her sport.”
To keep up with the competition and make sure she was ready to hit the ground running, Zois completed hours of physical therapy in the offseason and relied on her teammates to help her push through the mental blocks that come with returning to competition after injury.
“I did probably more than I was told because I wanted to get that strength back,” Zois said. “And I took it a little bit at a time, and I would practice the drills and then I would translate the drills into the skills.”
At the team’s season-opening meet, the Lindsey Ferris Invitational on Jan. 13, Zois captured the all-around title with a score of 39.050 in her first meet since March of last year.
“Getting back into the sport mentally and physically was a little bit challenging,” Zois said. “But I had my family, coaches and the girls right behind me the entire way and when things get hard, they pushed me no matter what.”
Zois has battled through two injuries in the five years she has been with the program, starting her freshman year when her college career was put on hold before it could even begin after a knee injury sidelined her for the 2015 season.
Zois came back into competition her sophomore year and tied for first at the 2016 EAGL Uneven Bars Championship with a score of 9.85 and a place on the All-EAGL First Team in the event.
“Four years in this sport, it’s a lot of wear and tear,” senior and fellow team captain Julia McLaughlin said. “So to do a fifth year, and to do better and to keep getting better is incredible.”
Zois wrapped up her junior season with placements on the All-EAGL Second Team in the uneven bars and the balance beam before moving into all-around competition her senior season, where she earned All-EAGL First Team honors in the event.
Even with a shortened season, Zois finished seventh in the EAGL in the all-around with a regional qualifying score of 39.180 in 2018.
McLaughlin said watching Zois battle through her injuries and come back successful has been a real-life lesson in resilience.
“Zois has had more challenges than other people on the team throughout her five years here,” McLaughlin said.
Zois said her goal this season was to match her level of competition from last season, and her success has been unexpected.
“I just wanted to do the best that I could do and I wanted to work as hard as I could and I wanted to translate what I’ve been practicing in the gym to the meet,” Zois said. “And it’s been extremely rewarding.”
The Colonials have three more meets before the EAGL Championships March 23 to wrap the team’s guaranteed slate of competition this season. For Zois, that means an end to her time competing as one of gymnastics’ top-performers and leaders.
“These girls are very blessed to have been around her for four years,” Foster-Cunningham said. “Some her classmates, the freshmen, just to grab her for one year, are better people to have known her for one year. She’s left quite a legacy here.”
Agam Mittal contributed reporting.