Paige Zois: the world at her feet, and the ball on a string

For this week’s interview in our Midweek Dub series, Melbourne Victory’s Paige Zois speaks exclusively to Impetus’ Kieran Yap about her remarkable 12 months, her style of play, and a promising future (4/1/23).

Above: Paige Zois celebrates Victory’s 2021/22 Championship with Alana Murphy. Photo: Melbourne Victory

It was deep into injury time, and Melbourne Victory had just clawed back two goals to be level with Sydney FC in 2021/22. It had been a tense and high-quality game, and Sydney FC were on the move. Rachel Lowe had the ball, but it turned into Paige Zois’s moment.

The Victory substitute got a toe-in to win possession. Then she produced a moment of magic. While shielding the ball, Zois performed a quick step-over, then a change of direction to send Lowe stumbling.

Victory did not find a winning goal, but they had rescued a point that would end up vital when the top four was decided months later.

That is Paige Zois in a microcosm. The work rate to win the ball, the skill to pull off the unexpected, and the courage to attempt it with the game on the line. It is what makes her a favourite of the Victory fans who regularly shout from the sidelines that she be brought on the pitch if she is not already.

Paige Zois’s highlights as a Junior Matilda in 2018

“I’m so appreciative of the support they give to the team and myself,” Zois said of the Victory Vikings Active supporters.

“As a young player finding their feet in the professional game, it’s so nice to have people supporting you, I’m so lucky!”

Zois had been at Victory for three years now. She made her debut in the AFC Women’s Club Championship as a 16-year-old after coming through the Elite Girls Program at the club. In Victoria’s NPLW she first gained attention at South Melbourne FC and has been dominant with the Bulleen Lions.

Her control of the Lions midfield helped drive the team to a Grand Final in 2022 and earned her a call-up to youth national team camps.

“My season at Bulleen was very enjoyable,” Zois told Impetus. “I felt like I grew a lot during the season. It’s definitely given me more confidence going into the A-League Women’s where I’m excited to put in some good performances.”

Above: Paige Zois in action for Bulleen Lions during the NPLW Victoria. Photo: Bulleen Lions.

That confidence was evident in her first start of the campaign. In a close contest with Canberra United, it was Zois’s through ball that set up Alex Chidiac for the only goal of the game. Her quick passing and decision-making was on full display as she helped launch attacks, sometimes with a single touch.

“I’m happy to play anywhere that my team needs me,” said Zois. “I quite enjoy the challenge of trying new positions out, whether it be a more defensive or attacking position.

“My preference is obviously somewhere in midfield, I don’t mind where. Some days I prefer switching and controlling the game and sometimes I’d rather dribble and shoot, I guess it’s dependent on what the team needs most from me.”

As someone able to play almost any position, Zois has looked for role models throughout the sport. “There’s not really a single player I model my game off,” she said.

“I admire different elements from different players for example Steph Catley’s composure under really high pressure is something I try to bring into my game just in a different spot on the field. Kyra Cooney-Cross’s acceleration and ball control is something to admire as well.

“As a youngster during my first season at Victory, I used to chase around Christine Nairn at training and I really admired her distribution. So, I’m basically taking elements from different players to try and mold my own game.”

At the Bulleen Lions, she appears central to the game plan. In a side stacked with A-League talent including Rebekah Stott, Tyla-Jay Vlajnic, and Alana Jancevski, Zois was the conductor of Caitlin Friend’s midfield.

In a deeper role, she linked midfield and attack, while also showing that she is capable of the spectacular from set pieces.

Her easy adaptation to the A-League Women has been helped by Victory influence at Bulleen. She was among three players at the club last season, plus the returning Gabby Garton who was a member of the 2020/21 Championship side.

“We definitely have lots of victory presence at Bulleen, which means I’m surrounded by quality players during both seasons.

“Players like Tiff (Eliadis), Lia (Privitelli), and Kayla (Morrison) have always been so supportive throughout my time at Bulleen and Victory.

“It’s nice having really good friends to share the field with and learn from. More importantly, I have a mentor in Caity Friend who is my coach at Bulleen and assistant coach at Victory which has been extremely helpful in my development and I’m lucky to learn from a great coach who has also played for Victory as a youngster like me.”

Image: Victory Vikings

In 2022, her obvious potential and impressive NPL form was rewarded by the national team coaches. She was selected in the Under 23 side for the AFF Championships in The Philippines. Following that, Leah Blayney included Zois in the squad for the Under 20 World Cup in Costa Rica.

It has made for an impressive 12 months, and it feels like the start of an exciting career. “I’m just trying to keep the momentum from all those experiences,” she reflects. “I was exposed to new training environments, coaches, and teammates which taught me so much. I had a small break after the NPL Final before getting stuck into preseason for ALW which was nice to reflect and appreciate.

“I was immersed with talented players and coaches. So, every day I learnt so many new things, whether it be about looking after my body, working in the gym, or learning things on the field, there was genuinely so much.

“I even keep a list on my phone, which sounds crazy, but I honestly just tried to be a sponge and soak in as much information as possible.”

Above: Paige Zois with Sarah Hunter (centre) and the Young Matildas. Photo: Football Australia.

The learning opportunities have not stopped. Zois might not be an automatic starter just yet, but she is training and playing with some of Australia’s best midfielders like Matildas star Elise Kellond-Knight and Victory legend Amy Jackson.

“KK and AJ are both great players in their own right,” says Zois. “I’m lucky to learn from experienced players like them. KK has only been at Victory with me for a short amount of time and I feel as though I’ve already learnt so much from her, she’s insightful and great to speak to.”

This is a promising thing for the futures of Zois, Victory, and national team selectors. One of Australia’s most promising midfielders is under the tutelage of some all-time greats, improving every year, and making an impact with every appearance.

Paige Zois. Remember the name or go to a Victory game and hear it being chanted.

Artwork: Charlotte Stacey, founder of On Her Side.

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