Saunders Is Set

Mission In Sight Ep. 5

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) – The arrival of summer means one thing for Zakiya Saunders – the start of her senior season.
The 5-8 guard spent the entire 2016-17 season on the sideline as the UCF women's basketball team posted one of its best seasons in program history under first-year head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson.
She doesn't remember exactly how old she was when she started playing, but why she started is a vivid recollection.
"I was outside playing with some boys and they told me that girls couldn't play basketball," she recalled. "Ever since then I've wanted to prove them wrong."
The Augusta, Ga., native headed north to begin her collegiate career at the University of Albany for then Great Danes head coach Abrahamson-Henderson.
"I like Coach Abe's coaching style and how she is as a person," Saunders said. "She's really about empowering women. I like those things and I believe in those things as well."
Saunders saw action in 16 games as a freshman in 2013-14. She started 19 contests while playing in all 33 games during her sophomore season. As a junior, she turned in historic numbers. Dishing out 227 assists, she set the school record and ranked sixth in the nation with an average of 6.9 assists per game.
An America East All-Conference Second Team guard, she led the league in assists per game and recorded seven games with 10 or more assists. Saunders also tallied 21 double-figure scoring games and racked up seven double-doubles. She played all 40 minutes in Albany's 61-58 win over Florida in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Her coaching staff headed south to Orlando in the spring of 2016, and she was faced with a decision. When the opportunity came about, she followed the migration to The City Beautiful.
"I've been working with (Coach Tahnee Balerio) since my freshman year," Saunders said. "Through the good and the bad, she's developed me and the person that I am. Coach Abe has done a lot of it, but a lot of it is Coach Tahnee too. I couldn't imagine finishing my career with anyone else."
Saunders had to sit out during what would have been her senior year after transferring to UCF in the fall. She watched the Knights open with a 10-2 record, the best start to a season since the 1982-83 campaign, and continue to reach milestone after milestone.
"How we started off, I was actually pretty amazed. I know how Coach Abe is and how she's all about winning, so I probably shouldn't be shocked," Saunders laughed. "It was fun to watch how everyone grew and developed throughout the whole year."
While it wasn't easy for a starting point guard to not be on the court, Saunders quickly fell into her role.
"I was a mini-coach," Saunders said. "Either on the sidelines (at home games) or during practice, I'd help people out. Just be a leader on the sidelines. If someone didn't know a play, or didn't know what to do, that was my job."

With 2016-17 officially in the books, Saunders and the rest of the Knights have turned their focus to the 2017-18 campaign.
And there's no question what Saunders is looking forward to the most.
"Just getting on the floor again," she said. "Playing with the team. After watching what happened last year, I feel like there's so much more that we can do. I'm excited just to get on the court."