As the Jumbos wrapped up their final game on the hardwood this March, the team rallied one last time around senior co-captain Joelle Zelony.
Zelony, a shooting guard, graduates Sunday along with the rest of the Class of 2023. As the only senior on the 2022–23 Tufts women’s basketball roster, Zelony is slated to leave the rest of her teammates behind as she launches into her professional career.
Growing up in Atlanta, Ga., Zelony fell in love with basketball in elementary school after her parents first signed her up for a recreational basketball league. Zelony continued to play Amateur Athletic Union basketball and stayed in the sport through high school. She attributes much of her success at Tufts to the relationships she fostered on her high school team.
“I love the team aspect [and] I had an awesome group of girls in high school that I played with. … I just loved being around that atmosphere,” Zelony said. “My coach from high school was amazing also. He definitely helped me get to where I wanted to be, which was a high academic school with a great basketball program.”
When Zelony first arrived at Tufts, she knew she wanted to be a part of something special. Over the course of four years, Zelony can confidently say that she has been a part of just that.
“My goal when I got here was just to be a part of something great. … I definitely have checked off that goal,” Zelony said.
In the final round of the NESCAC Tournament this year, Tufts faced Trinity, a team that it had narrowly beaten by 1 point earlier in the season.
“We played Trinity, which [was] also a top 25 team at the time, … and we just blew them out,” Zelony said.
The Jumbos took down the No. 3-seeded Bantams in a decisive 57–38 victory to claim the NESCAC title. Zelony reflected fondly on the accomplishment, which was the fourth title in the program’s history.
“I would say winning the NESCAC Championship was definitely the highlight of my career,” she said. “I remember being in the game in the last few minutes, and we were all just looking at each other like, ‘We did it,’ which was the best feeling ever.”
The season concluded in a memorable NCAA Tournament run. The team made it to the Elite 8 off of three strong wins against U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Skidmore College and nationally ranked No. 5 Trinity University (Texas).
“I know going into my freshman year, in everyone’s mind, the goal was to win a national championship, which, sadly, freshman year, got cut short,” Zelony said. “But we’ve come pretty close, and won a NESCAC Championship this year, which is awesome.”
Zelony emphasized that the closeness and camaraderie of her team senior year is what separated it from prior seasons.
“Overall, in my whole basketball career, this year has been the closest team I’ve ever been on, like all of us are best friends,” Zelony said. “From that standpoint, it's made this year so special and one I'll never forget.”
She also remarked on the fact that activities off the court with the team contributed to this strong relationship.
Zelony reminisced on “just the little things even outside of basketball with [the team], like going on random adventures and hanging out.”
After graduation, Zelony, who studied economics and entrepreneurship at Tufts, plans to attend Columbia University to receive a master’s degree in sports management. When asked what lessons and skills she'd take away from her time on the Jumbos, she emphasized the importance of a solid work ethic and effective communication.
“I would say, skill-wise, just being a leader and checking in on people, and always having that open end of communication,” Zelony said. “In terms of basketball, working hard, taking that anywhere I go in the future. Just always having a work ethic to be the best I can be.”
Above all else, it’s clear that Joelle Zelony will have a lasting impact on Tufts women’s basketball for years to come.
Zelony signed off with: “A thank you to my parents, coaches and teammates who have been there through it all at Tufts!”