Torrey Pines star returns to her New England roots

Lauren Zaniboni is returning to her roots in more ways than one.

The former Torrey Pines High two-sport standout is returning to her native New England this fall, transferring to Div. III Emerson College, where she plans to play on the basketball and volleyball teams.

Zaniboni decided to leave North Carolina State after playing on the varsity team her freshman year.

The move returns her to a Boston campus near where she was raised. It also resurrects a basketball career she assumed was over when she played her last high school game in 2007, leading the Falcons to the San Diego Section Div. I quarterfinals for a fourth consecutive year, a stretch that included two semifinal appearances.

Zaniboni said her primary reason for picking Emerson was academics, noting the downtown Boston campus boasts a highly regarded communications program she plans to major in.

She said she was unhappy at NC State playing at a program she said was experiencing growing pains under a relatively new coaching staff, and a difficult transition living in the South, a place vastly different from anywhere else she’d lived, and where she had no family close by.

The prospect of playing both sports, sealed the deal, she said.

“I’ve been playing basketball my whole life and I think I got burnt out playing for so long,” Zaniboni said. “Now that I’ve taken a year off I miss it so much.”

Zaniboni, who is 6-foot-2, was considered a can’t-miss collegiate prospect in both sports at Torrey Pines. She never played organized volleyball until her freshman year, and decided to pursue it out of high school.

Zaniboni emerged as an impact player amid arguably the most competitive volleyball environments in the nation in San Diego, but it was in basketball where she made an indelible mark.

Zaniboni is the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,942 career points, and is also among the program’s leading rebounders with 1,050.

She led the Falcons to a Palomar League title in 2006, when she was the league’s Player of the Year. She was a three-time first-team all-league selection, and a two-time all-tournament selection at the prestigious Kiwanis tourney.

She cites the camaraderie at Torrey Pines, especially in 2007, when she was among seven seniors, to be her career highlight.

“Maybe we weren’t the most talented team all the time, but because we were so close I think that took us a little bit further,” she said.

Former Torrey Pines coach Doug Gilbert describes Zaniboni as one of the program’s all-time best players.

“She’s a great player and a great leader,” Gilbert said. “She was one of the foundations we were able to build our success around.”

Zaniboni said she took a greater liking to volleyball in high school, partly because the pace of the game seemed more laid back compared to typically frantic pace of basketball she’d started to tire from.

Volleyball also seemed to be more of a challenge compared to basketball, which early in the early stages of her career seemed almost ridiculously easy. Zaniboni towered over opponents after an early growth spurt that left her with no true peers.

Zaniboni was 6-foot-1 as a freshman.

“I was so much taller than everyone else all I had to do was stand there and put my hands up,” Zaniboni said. “Once I got older everyone started catching up, then I actually had to do other things.”

Zaniboni says the two sports complement each other nicely, noting that volleyball and basketball both require similar sports-specific off-season workout drills designed to improve quickness and leaping ability.

The added benefit of volleyball is it taught her to become a more cerebral athlete, something which paid huge dividends in basketball when she could no longer simply rely on her height.

“In basketball, I used to just pick things up and it really wasn’t like that in volleyball,” she said. “That’s one thing I took from it, because I have to work so much harder at volleyball to be successful.”

Zaniboni made the varsity as a Torrey Pines freshman, and was the Falcons’ starting post player by the time the playoffs rolled around that year, Gilbert said, noting it was almost impossible to keep an athletic left-handed post-player with her size out of the lineup for long.

“She was tough to guard right from the start,” Gilbert said.

Guarding Zaniboni figures to become more difficult as she develops her basketball skills under a college coach, Gilbert said.

Gilbert believes Zaniboni has tremendous upside, noting in addition to her dominant post presence, she’s added a perimeter shot, and a hard-nosed defensive playing style to her game.

“She’s got a lot of basketball left in her, and she has the potential to progress and get even better,” Gilbert said. “I think she can probably play professionally someday.”

Zaniboni isn’t thinking that far ahead, but she isn’t entirely ruling out a professional career, either.

“It’s not something I’m aiming for, I’m just playing because I love it,” she said.

“We’ll see though. If I miss it as much when I get out of college as I do now, I may have overseas or something.”