Sitting at a table on the top floor of the library with a textbook, wearing sweatpants and basketball shoes, Essence Peneloza is the definition of a UTM baller.
Like many basketball enthusiasts at UTM, Peneloza’s life comes down to eating, sleeping, and playing ball. Oh, and maybe studying every now and then.
She is a second-year crime and law deviance student who plays on the UTM women’s tri-campus basketball team. Basketball has been a critical part of her daily routine since she tried out for her junior girls’ team in elementary school.
“At the time, I didn’t know why I wanted to try out for the team,” said Peneloza. “But looking back, I realize that it was so that I could spend more time with my dad, because he was really into sports. […] Soon enough, I fell in love with it, so it was a win-win situation.”
When she came to UTM last year, her parents warned her that she might have to give up the sport in order to focus on her studies. But on the tryout date, Peneloza donned her basketball shoes and wowed the coaches with her skills. “I just had to go,” she said. “Basketball has always been a part of my routine and so it just became a part of my daily schedule.”
Peneloza plays the point guard position and is a team player through and through. On the court, she controls the ball and sets up plays for her teammates, while on the bench she cheers them on and high-fives the ones who have been substituted. Off the court, Peneloza is a smiley, friendly person who focusses on her studies in the hope of applying to law school.
When asked how she would improve the team, Peneloza replied, “I want our team to have more chemistry. If you have chemistry between the players, you’ll win games.” She mentioned the men’s White team’s basketball win this past Wednesday. “The guys are like a family, and the players have a great chemistry that shows on the court,” she said.
After she graduates from UTM, Peneloza plans to continue playing basketball or coaching. “Nothing [else] gives you that feeling, of playing,” she said.
But coaching is nothing new for Peneloza, either; she has coached for Athletes in Action and her high school basketball team. Having had ambitions to play for the WNBA when she was in elementary school, Peneloza wants others to have that kind of ambition too. “When I’m not playing anymore, I want to give back and give the children the opportunity to have a passion in their life,” she said.
In the meantime, Peneloza continues to study and play basketball at UTM. Watch for her in the coming weeks as the Eagles head into the playoffs.