“My coach came over and patted me on the back and said, ‘Oh, that was alright … Good start,’” she said.
It wouldn’t be the only time one of her vaults would catch her off guard. Nor would it be the only time she would compete in the venue that seemed to swallow her up.
Almost a decade later Aloi accepted a position on the North Carolina gymnastics squad, and suddenly the once unfamiliar Fetzer Gymnasium became her second home.
Aloi, a junior, came back to UNC during high school for her official recruitment visit, and since donning her first UNC leotard, the Winston-Salem native has been a strong competitor for the group.
As a freshman, she earned first-team All-East Atlantic Gymnastics League Tournament honors with her floor exercise and second-team on balance beam. Her sophomore season, she was named to the second-team All-EAGL on floor exercise.
But to her surprise and dismay, in March, as she landed a vault in Alabama, what she initially thought was a sprained ankle turned out to be a much more serious injury.
“It was our last competition right before the big conference competition, and I landed kind of funny,” she said.
“I separated two bones in the arch of my foot. It’s called a Lisfranc because the ligament got damaged.”
Aloi underwent surgery and lived with a screw in her foot for about seven months. The hardware limited her tumbling abilities but was removed a few months ago.
Though she is working to regain her strength, she and coach Derek Galvin are hesitant to rush her return to the mats.
“In my heart, I want to compete,” Aloi said.
“I want to be out there, especially on floor. I love to perform floor, and I want to be out there helping my team. But with my foot, floor is one of the hardest events to get back.”
Galvin added that it is possible that Aloi will redshirt, and because gymnastics is so physically demanding on the feet, she is still several weeks away from being able to regain some of her tumbling skills.
“She needs to be able to go up on the ball of her foot, she needs to be able to punch off of her feet, and it’s really too early to say right now,” Galvin said.
Aloi’s absence in the team’s first meet Sunday against George Washington will certainly affect the group, as her injury takes away another veteran competitor from a squad that graduated five dynamic seniors last season.
With fewer experienced upperclassmen than normal, Galvin said he will rely on his freshmen to fill as many as 10 of the 24 spots in the lineup.
“All five of those seniors were very significant contributors to the team in a variety of different ways — leadership, athletic talent, competitive experience,” Galvin said.
“Their graduation is going to be one of the most difficult to adjust to.”
Though Aloi is yet another gymnast that Galvin will be without for at least some of the season, she has every intention of staying around to support her teammates.
“The attitude of this team has been nothing but optimistic and positive, and it’s amazing to see that despite some downfalls we’ve started with,” she said.
“We’re going to fight through this adversity and persevere.”
And her teammates appreciate her presence.
Senior and co-captain Elizabeth Durkac said Aloi is still involved and is always around to offer words of encouragement.
“You don’t even know that she’s not really training. She’s still at the gym, screaming for everyone — yelling, encouraging everyone. She’s very vocal, she’s a leader.
“She hasn’t checked out of the team.”
Thirteen years ago, Aloi walked into Fetzer Gymnasium, as a fiery 8-year-old with a passion to compete.
Not much has changed.
But she’s scoring much higher than a 7.7.
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