Panther Basketball Champion Heads to the University of St. Katherine
Zeniya Thomas played hoops at PCCC with memorable passion. She was captain of the 2018-2019 Region 19 Championship Team that finished in sixth place with NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) Division III.
Playing point guard and shooting guard, Zeniya finished First Team All-Region and All-Conference and was nominated by Region 19 as Garden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) Player of the Week on February 11, 2019, when she shot 19-39 from the field and averaged 28 points per game, enabling PCCC to go 2-0 against competing teams.
“Zeniya’s tough defense and ability to attack the basket,” were instrumental to PCCC’s victories that week, said Teya Eaton, head coach of women’s basketball at PCCC.
Now, with the associate’s degree in Liberal Arts/Humanities she received in the 47th Commencement, this Panther will spread her wings and become a Firebird at the University of St. Katherine in San Marcos, California.
Zeniya, known to her friends and teammates as “Zee,” was recruited to play basketball at the University after their coaches saw a video of her in action at PCCC. She visited the southern California campus last spring and accepted their offer. Zeniya will enter a bachelor’s degree program at St. Katherine’s and has been awarded both an athletic and an academic scholarship that together will cover her entire tuition at the University.
“It’s really nice here,” said Zeniya who was already enjoying beach workouts in San Marcos with the other student athletes in late July. “I’m really looking forward to my experience at St. Katherine’s.”
Growing up in Paterson, Zeniya was a top student at Eastside High School where she played basketball all four years and also ran track, making all county for the 800-mile cross-country run.
It was during a high school basketball game that recruiters from PCCC discovered Zeniya’s talent on the court and in the classroom and encouraged her to enroll at the College.
“I came to PCCC as an EOF (Educational Opportunity Fund) student,” explained Zeniya, referring to the state-funded program that assists promising students who show academic or financial need. Like all new EOF students at PCCC, Zeniya was required to attend a summer institute before enrolling in regular classes.
“There was no summer for me that year, but it was worth it,” she said. “It was the smartest decision
I ever made.”
The first in her family to attend college, Zeniya initially wanted to become a pediatrician. She discussed her goals with her PCCC advisor and decided to major in Liberal Arts with a concentration in Humanities.
“At PCCC, you really know the professors and whole staff care about the students,” she said. “They are always available to you and want to see you succeed.”
Along the way, though, the talented athlete who loves to travel followed an opportunity to play basketball for a college team in Texas. She relocated, lived with her cousin, and worked at Home Depot to make money, but complications with paperwork at the college delayed her from starting classes.
“I was just waiting and working, but not advancing my athletic or academic career,” said Zeniya. “It was a lesson learned,” she added. “Things didn’t work out, but I knew I had to go back to school. “
Zeniya returned to New Jersey and resumed her studies at PCCC, taking seven courses to catch up and playing an amazing basketball season at the same time. “It was hard, but I was determined,” said Zeniya.
As she has grown, her goals have changed, too. Now Zeniya hopes to become a physical therapist, especially for athletes, but also has an interest in playing professionally. “I’d like to go pro, especially overseas,” she said.
Coming from a military family, the student athlete has travel in her blood. After many years in Germany, her father is now stationed in Dubai with the U.S. Army, and her brothers and uncles are all over the world. They also represent every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Did she ever consider that path herself? “No, I was in ROTC in high school and didn’t like it,” she admits.
“It just wasn’t for me.” But basketball is for her, so with the support of her family, who are all very proud of their first college graduate, Zeniya heads west again.
She admits she will miss the team and coaches at PCCC, especially Coach Eaton. “We have a bond, but everyone on the team will have to recreate that bond at some point with other teams and other coaches,” she said.
“We also all have dreams, but to make them a reality takes determination, dedication, and effort. PCCC advanced me toward my dream, and helped me both athletically and academically. It has been a pleasure being a student athlete at PCCC.”
Written by Linda Telesco.
Photos by Linda Telesco, Raheen Nelson, and courtesy of University of St. Katherine