Captain returns from heel injury
For a college athlete, especially one without professional or Olympic aspirations, their senior year is supposed to be a time to turn their experience into their best performances as they play the sport they have dedicated their lives to for the last time.
Jenna Zito’s senior season for the Rutgers gymnastics team followed that path at the start of 2013. The co-captain’s first two meets went off without a hitch, earning a score of 9.825 on both of her floor routines.
Before the third meet of the season, Zito’s luck took a turn for the worse when she injured her Achilles during warm-ups in the Livingston Recreation Center.
Zito sat out the rest of the season and was able to come back this year as a redshirt senior.
“I feel a lot better than I did, but coming back has been a little difficult,” Zito said. “Not having an offseason definitely made coming back more difficult than if I had been working out and making my skills better all season, but right now I feel pretty good.”
Zito admitted she is worried about the wear and tear on her body this season without a proper offseason.
“Well I’m older, I’m a fifth-year [senior], so yes it is something that has always been in my mind but it’s something that we’re working on here in the gym managing and making sure that it’s a long season and I have to limit my numbers and be smart about my body,” Zito said.
The soft-spoken Zito made her season debut during a quad-meet Jan. 17 at Kent State. She performed in only one event, earning a 9.75 on the balance beam.
She increased her score two days later against Ohio State to a 9.775, tying her for third in the event. She also performed on the vault with a score of 9.7.
Her first setback of the season came last Friday against Brown. She opened the match for the team on the vault, but was unable to stick the landing, earning a 8.525.
Rutgers also had an uncharacteristically poor performance on the balance beam, and Zito was no exception, earning an 8.95.
“I want to work with putting the pressure on in the practice so when I’m in the meet I will be better,” Zito said. “Nothing major — after a bad meet I’m not going to change everything, I’m just going to go in there and do it when I want to do it.”
She has served as a team captain for all three years of head coach Louis Levine’s tenure. He welcomed her return this season.
“It’s a lot easier to be a leader when you’re on the floor than when you’re not on the floor,” Levine said. “She has competed for us in the last two meets on two events so we’re excited to have her back and keep improving as the season goes along.”
Zito was awarded the team’s Most Valuable Gymnast in 2010 and the Coaches’ Appreciation Award last season.
“It’s an overall commitment to Rutgers gymnastics,” Levine said. “Just doing whatever is needed whether it is the leadership role or being there for a teammate outside of the gym. She’s the epitome of what Rutgers needs to be about.”
For updates on the Rutgers gymnastics team, follow Justin Lesko on Twitter @JLeskoRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.