Grad student ending career with 1,000th point


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Venzaldenos’ 2.5 three-pointers per game ranked second in the MAAC in 2020-21.  

Giovanni Paolo Tagliafierro, Sports Editor

Graduate student Olivia Vezaldenos’ collegiate basketball career, a career that’s made stops in California and Oregon before finally making it to New Rochelle, has been anything but ordinary.  


Earlier this season, Vezaldenos eclipsed the 1,000 career points mark in a comeback victory against conference rival Siena. The California native reflected on the accomplishment in an interview, focusing more on what the number means to her rather than how it looks in the stat sheet.  


“It’s not so much about the statistic itself,” Vezaldenos said. “To me more so, it just symbolizes everything I have been able to experience along my crazy and super unique journey.  


And what a crazy and unique journey it has been for the 5’7” guard.  


Vezaldenos’ passion for basketball was inherited from her father, who played ball at a junior college. She recalled that, for as long as she could remember, she had a ball in her hand and a hoop out back.  


By the age of nine, Vezaldenos was playing in boys’ leagues that fit her competition level better than the girls’ leagues did. Fast forward to junior high, and she was playing on both her junior varsity and varsity squads.  


In high school, Vezaldenos tried her hand in other sports like tennis and track & field to keep her busy, but it was prior to her junior season that her coach told her to consider making basketball her sole interest.  


The Manteca, California product would round out her senior season with league MVP honors en route to a league championship. She was a three-time captain of the team and finished with the second most career points in program history, including a record-setting 40-point performance in her junior season.  


The story really begins once Vezaldenos started looking at schools to continue her career. Due to playing in a small town and not extensively participating in travel leagues, she did not gain too much attention from scouts.  


Vezaldenos mentioned her reluctance to sign onto any program that was below the Division I expectations she had set for herself and how that played into the process of college selection.  


“I was kind of stubborn at that point in my life; it was DI or bust for me,” Vezaldenos reflected. “And I really wasn’t willing to sacrifice my education to keep playing basketball.”  


Vezaldenos proceeded to ignore the offers to play basketball, and instead stepped away from the sport to attend her dream school of UC Urvine, about forty minutes south of metropolitan Los Angeles.  


She did not fully remove basketball from her life, however, and played on the team’s practice squad. Eventually, she was offered the chance as a walk-on on the team, but Vezaldenos believed she possessed scholarship-level ability.  


When it was time for the guard to start playing again, she decided to attend junior college at Chabot College in Hayward, California. At Chabot, Vezaldenos said she put in countless hours of training and work, not only on the court, but also at the handful of jobs she kept during school.  


The true testament to her dedication was her daily commute of three hours from home to campus.  


Vezaldenos wrapped up her single-season at Chabot will accolades ranging from first-team all-conference honors to Chabot College Female Athlete of the Year awards. She was also top-20 in scoring in the state of California at 19.2 points per game before she transferred to Concordia University in Portland, Oregon.  


Now playing at a Division II level, Vezaldenos admitted that it was difficult adjusting to the pace of play and new, higher-level competition. This adjustment period did not last long for the junior.  


In her first year at Concordia, Vezaldenos led the conference in scoring and was named the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year. She later cemented herself in school history with a record 84 three-pointers in a single season.  


Unfortunately, there would be another twist in the player’s career, as the university announced that they were shutting down at the end of Vezaldenos senior year in February 2020 due to fund mismanagement.  


The sudden news was “devasting” to her and her teammates, as she had planned to finish her career with the Cavaliers. Vezaldenos, who still had a year of NCAA eligibility left, entered the transfer portal.  


The guard’s performance at Concordia had drawn the eyes of Division I and II programs around the country, but it was Iona that stood out. Vezaldenos saw the college as the best academic option available to her and made the trip out east to New Rochelle.  


Vezaldenos’ contributions to the Gaels roster were immediate. She complimented then-sophomore Juana Camilion nicely off the bench, with both players averaging 11 points per game in the 2020-21 season.  


Vezaldenos connected on a team-high 37 threes on 35% shooting that year and scored a season-high 25 points against Niagara.  


In her final year of eligibility, Vezaldenos has been thrust into a starting role, still managing to bring the consistent point production that she has been known for throughout her career. Not only has she been a reliable scoring option, but her veteran presence has been key to the squad’s development.  


As her college basketball career comes to a close, Vezaldenos looks back at her journey with a sense of pride and at her 1,000 career points as far more than just what she has accomplished on the court.  


“What makes it so special to me is how it led me to appreciate everything the game has given me along the way,” Vezaldenos said. “It’s been really cool to reflect on the divisional ladder I’ve climbed I’ve never felt like I had anything to prove to anybody else, but I’ve proven to myself that I can compete and contribute at any level.”