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Athlete of the Week: Zack Yonda ’18

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For Yonda, last Wednesday was a night to remember. In addition to dropping a team high 20 points, the junior from Berwyn, PA became just the 21st player in program history to record 1,000 career points. To top off the week, Yonda scored 13 points in Saturday’s win against Johns Hopkins and recorded a block eerily similar to that of LeBron James’ in the 2016 NBA Finals. On the year, Yonda is sixth in the Centennial Conference in points per game (13.4), seventh in three point percentage (42.3%), and second in free throw percentage (88.5%).

MAX KASSAN: Even though you’re a junior, what did beating Hopkins on Senior Day mean to you?

ZACK YONDA: It meant a lot. Definitely one of the biggest wins since I’ve been at Swat. Senior Day is always an important game, but this one had some extra history behind it. Only our juniors and seniors will remember this, but two years ago when I was a freshman we played Hopkins in a similar game towards the end of the season. At the time, they were a top 15 team in the country and we were nobody, expected to finish in the bottom of the conference standings like so many years prior. I remember the game so well because we played near-perfect and had a chance to pull off one of the biggest upsets in program history, but blew a huge lead in the last few minutes and ended up coming just short. Since that loss our program has won something crazy like 70 percent of our games, but every year Hopkins continued to beat us up. Going into Saturday, no player or coach on our roster had ever beaten them. So even though I was a junior, I knew how badly Sam [Lebryk], Chris [Bourne], and Mike [Rubayo] wanted that win, and I’m so glad we were able to get it for them. The fact that it also happened to be Senior Day was icing on the cake.

MK: What was running through your mind when you scored your 1000th point?

ZY: It’s funny, I really had no idea I was close to 1000 until Swat Athletics Instagrammed about it before our McDaniel game, and even during that game I lost track of how close I was as the game went on. My hope was that I’d cross the milestone without realizing it so I didn’t have to think about it, but the opposite happened and I finished the McDaniel game at 999. Honestly, I was excited during the Ursinus game but I just wanted to get it over with because that was a huge game for us and I wanted the night to be about us getting a win, not me scoring my 1000th. When the shot finally went down I was relieved but it was almost immediately followed with an “alright, now lets go get a dub” feeling, if you know what I mean.

MK: You’re from 30 minutes away from Swat (Berwyn, PA). Did you have a lot of family members come to the game? What did it mean to you sharing the moment with them?

ZY: Being close is so great because my friends and family come all the time to watch. I actually had more fans at the Hopkins game than the Ursinus one, but my parents are at almost every game, so they were there to see 1000. In that regard, I was happy to have come just short at McDaniel because they couldn’t make it to that game, and I knew how badly they wanted to see it in person. They were definitely more excited than I was.

MK: Looking ahead, what’s your mindset going into the playoffs as one of the top seeds?

ZY: We’re going to have the same mindset that we’ve had all year: focus only on the next game on the schedule and on getting a little bit better with every practice. We know we can beat anyone when we play our style, so we just have to prepare with that in mind. I’m excited to have the opportunity to compete for a championship for the second year in a row.

MK: You guys have come a long way since your freshman year (7-11 record); what does it say about the program that you are just one win away from a regular season conference title?

ZY: It definitely shows our growth. My freshman year, no one expected us to be any good, and we really weren’t. I remember each win we got was super exciting because people weren’t used to winning around here. Before I got to Swarthmore it was even worse (Sam, Chris, and Mike will tell you). Last year we were still playing as underdogs; picked to finish 7th in the conference and ended finishing in 2nd. That year you could see our growth in our record. This year though, the target has been on our back since game #1. If we win a big game, it’s because we were the better team and should have won. When we lose, it’s our fault and out crawl the critics from the woodwork. I think our success despite that nightly pressure has shown even more growth than last year for our program, but it’s too early to say anything permanent about our season and whether or not it’s been a successful one. We have to finish through the line these next few weeks. There is a lot of basketball still left to play.

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