The Cougars’ star guard opens up on recovering from tearing her ACL and learning to love the game again

Senior guard Zoe March has been a star on Azusa Pacific’s women’s basketball team for the past four years. With enough talent to start as a freshman, March helped lead the Cougars to two straight conference championships and three consecutive NCAA Division II postseason appearances.

From Reedley, Calif., March began playing basketball as a kid, but it wasn’t until her freshman year of high school that she fell in love with the game. She originally wanted to be a professional soccer player, but after working with her high school coach, she knew basketball was the sport for her.

“I love the team aspect of basketball. There’s nothing like it,” she said. “In basketball, there’s no way of winning a game on your own. There are highlight players and there are players that obviously contribute more than others, but when it comes down to it, you need the entire team to win games.” 

March practiced more than three hours every day. She soon became a leader on the court after her high school coach instructed her on how to be more vocal during games. Her leadership and skill led her to earn a spot at APU. Although she had the talent to make a Division I squad, she chose APU because of her faith and the way head coach T.J. Hardeman spoke about the program.

“He said he invested more in the players than in the game of basketball,” March said.

Photo courtesy of Zoe March.

During her freshman year, March earned a starting nod and got her Cougar career off to a strong start. She averaged 7.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game. Her sophomore campaign was even stronger.

In her incredible sophomore season, March earned WBCA All-American honors and was voted to the PacWest all-conference team. This led her to have even higher expectations for her junior year. She was on pace to beat her personal bests in points with 11.4 points-per-game and steals, averaging 2.5 per game. 

Then the unthinkable happened.

On Dec. 17, 2018, in a game against Dominican, March was driving down the lane and stopped to shoot a jumper when she collided with a Dominican player. 

“The top of her knee hit the bottom of mine, so the top of my knee was stabilized but the bottom kept going. I remember feeling like it popped out and popped right back in,” March said. “I knew instantly I tore it based on the pain. I just kept praying in the back of my mind, ‘Lord, don’t let this happen to me.’”

March tore her ACL, the ligament which connects your thighbone to your shinbone, and knew she would be out for months, missing at least the rest of the season. She had surgery soon after and returned to APU and the team just three weeks later.

While she couldn’t play, March cheered her team on from the sideline at every game, home and away. She went to most practices too, only missing the ones she had to for physical therapy. Even though she wasn’t playing, March was still happy getting to watch her team succeed.

“It was hard because I couldn’t play, but I was never angry or frustrated because basketball is my mission field and I could do that whether I’m playing or not,” March said. “I love basketball, but in the end it doesn’t fulfill you. I find fulfillment in God. I want to share that with other girls and pour into them. That’s why it’s my mission field.”

Photo courtesy of Zoe March.

Since March couldn’t practice and train, she decided to find another aspect of her life to control which would help her get back to her former playing shape.

“I didn’t want to gain weight after surgery, so I highly limited what I ate, to the point where food consumed my mind all day long. I thought, ‘I can’t eat here. I can’t eat this,’” March said. “It became something I could control because, at that time, it was the only thing I could control. It became very unhealthy.”

March lost weight, to the point where her friends started to notice. 

“I was working out a lot and not eating enough to sustain my body. It was affecting every part of my life,” she said. “One of my roommates, Ally, started to notice and held me accountable. She would eat with me. I started gaining it back and I started gaining so much that I felt like I was overweight. Then it was no longer a thing about accolades, now it was just my appearance.”

When March eventually returned to the court, she noticed she wasn’t able to move the way she could before the injury. Because of this, March struggled to find love for the game that she had once treasured so much. Then one day in her Interpersonal Communication class, she heard something that changed her life.

“My professor, Courtney Davis, was talking about identity and I realized that my identity was being an athlete. That meant I had to look a certain way. I had to act a certain way. I had to be the best I could be on the court and get back to the point of earning accolades to show people that I’m a good athlete,” March said. 

Photo courtesy of Zoe March.

March realized she was thinking about her identity in the wrong way. 

“That class changed my whole outlook on basketball. Now, honestly, I couldn’t care less if I drop 30 points or I don’t score at all. I just want to work really hard and do my best to be a good team player, because when I do that, I have a really fun time with my team,” she said. “I don’t focus on other things that can hinder that. I’m less selfish on the court. I respect my teammates more. I’m more attuned to people’s feelings and emotions on the court if I’m not focused on myself.”

While it took March a while to learn this throughout the recovery process, she said she’s happy with where she is now.

“I’m glad I learned that because it was starting to consume me. I’m having way more fun now that I don’t focus on the accolades,” March said. “I love the game again.”