Senior Class Act
Women’s basketball seniors fondly look back, excitedly look ahead on Senior Night
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
College careers can really sneak up on you. They can go by so fast that sometimes you don’t fully realize just how much you’ve accomplished.
Women’s basketball seniors Zaire O’Neil, Antonia Peresson and Imani Tilford, redshirt senior Elo Edeferioka and grad student Breanna Brown will have the opportunity to find out, as they’ll be honored in a Senior Night ceremony prior to Georgia Tech’s game against Miami at McCamish Pavilion (tip-off is at 7 p.m.).
“It will be an emotional day just because it is our last home game of the season and we’ve worked hard these last four years,” said O’Neil. “We’ve put in a lot of time, left a lot blood, sweat and tears on the court. But our approach won’t be any different. We’re not doing anything special. Yes, we’ll celebrate the seniors but we’ll attack it just the way we would a normal game.”
The game may be normal but this senior class is anything but — it’s special.
“It has been a privilege to watch these seniors grow these past four years,” said head coach MaChelle Joseph. “They have impacted this program and the Georgia Tech community in a very positive way. They have done hundreds of hours of community service and have been committed to academic success! All four seniors are scheduled to graduate this spring from Georgia Tech and Bre will graduate with her master’s next spring.”
Joseph searched high and low to bring this quintet to Atlanta. O’Neil came from Newark, N.J., Tilford came from Westchester, N.Y., and Peresson came across the Atlantic from Italy. Edeferioka transferred in 2015 from Hofstra, on Long Island, N.Y., to finish her undergraduate studies and Brown came East from Oregon State to do her graduate work at Georgia Tech.
Regardless of their departure point and arrival date on The Flats, each member of this class describes the others as “sisters” and with genuine affection.
“We have different backgrounds, we have different personalities but we really like each other,” said Peresson. “We spend time outside the court together and I’m happy that I’ve spent these four years with them, especially with Zaire and ‘Chubbs’ (Tilford) that we spent these four years together. We’ve been through a lot, ups and downs, but at the end of the day, we’re still here and I know that they will be like sisters for me for the rest of my life.”
“We started off with seven my freshman year and it’s come down to just three of us, and it’s been great meeting Bre and Elo. We’ve formed a bond that we can take with us when we graduate from here,” added Tilford. “I’ll know I always have friends to go to, even though all of us are from different parts of the city, and parts of the country, different parts of the world, I can always go travel and be with them or take a trip somewhere.”
Edeferioka admits her trip to Atlanta was where she felt the sisterhood and influenced her decision to transfer.
“When I came for my visit, I saw the team and hung out with them. It was totally different from other visits I’d been on before,” she recalled. “I was really excited about the way they cared about each other. It was really cool.”
Brown felt that same warmth from the team after choosing to use her final season of eligibility at Tech while doing graduate studies.
“They’ve been very responsive and very helpful in teaching me the system and welcoming me with open arms,” said Brown. “My coming in and kind of sharing some of the things that I’ve learned over the years was not easy for them to take in — somebody coming in and taking on a leadership role. At the end of the day it’s about getting better and building relationships. That was my goal coming in and that’s something that I definitely think that I accomplished and we’re still accomplishing. I’m very grateful for them and very happy to have had this opportunity to share with them.”
On the court, the 2017-18 season has seen a changing of the guard of sorts. O’Neil, Tilford, and Brown, primarily starters, and Peresson, who’d made at least 11 starts each of her three years, had to adjust to coming off the bench. Edeferioka also had to adjust to not starting when Joseph moved Brown into the starting lineup four games ago.
There was no complaining or pouting. That’s not what mature young women and model teammates do.
“Having to take on a different role than I had when I was a junior or a sophomore is very different but I feel like everybody makes sacrifices,” said Tilford. “Being a senior I had to take on a leadership role. It was hard at first not doing the same things that I was used to, but no matter what, I always put the team first. Anything that I could do to put us in a position to win I’m all for.”
“Playing time was something that I was used to but no matter how my role has changed, ultimately I’m worried about winning and whatever puts us in the best position to win I’m fine with,” said O’Neil. “I would definitely put myself aside for the betterment of the team. That’s the focus that I’ve been trying to take for the season.”
Brown is grateful for the season she’s experienced and would like Senior Night to be a memorable capper to it.
“It’s very special to me,” she said. “In the short amount of time with this group I’ve still built such a strong relationship with them. That makes this all the more special. It makes me reminisce and wish I had more time with them. So it’s an honor.”
The Jackets feel they have a lot of important basketball to play, and are playing like it. They head into the season’s final two games having won three of four — they gave No. 5 Notre Dame a battle in South Bend in the one loss. They’re confident that they are coming together like they did at the end of last season and can make a similar run.
“This was how we were last year at the end of the season and I can see that happening right now with the way that we’re playing in practice and in games,” said Edeferioka. “I can definitely see us having a run. We’re really excited that we’re playing very well together and hopefully it’s going to carry on to the Tournament.”
But first comes Miami. The Jackets would like to reverse recent trends with the Hurricanes — they’ve lost 8-of-10 and 3-of-4 at McCamish. The seniors believe they can based on how well the team has played of late and the class’ 3-0 record on Senior Night.
“No matter how the season was going we always made sure we got it done for our seniors,” said O’Neil. “That was something that we always put as a priority. This year it’s different being on the other side but you still have to go out there and play hard. I feel like the team is committed and definitely wants to get this win for us and we want to get this one for the program.”
It’s also the class’ final “Thank You” to the fans.
“We consider our fans family. They come here every game, they support us, high or low. They never waver,” O’Neil said. “The family atmosphere has always been great at McCamish. The people who come to support us, our staff, the people from all around the country, that’s one thing that I’ll definitely miss.”
While staying perfect on Senior Night matters, Joseph feels this class has already won.
“I am very proud of their growth as young women,” she said. “I know that they are prepared for the next stage of life after Tech.”