Zieniewska inks pro deal in Iceland

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Former Cleveland State guard Barbara Zieniewska has signed with Icelandic club Athena, her agent, Charles Gamble, announced on Monday.

Athena, which is based in the capital city of Reykjavík, is a relatively new entry to the national hoops scene, as the club formed during the summer of 2019. Though it started off by sponsoring a full junior organization, Athena entered the senior women’s level in 2021 thanks to an alliance with Ungmennafélag Kjalnesinga (UMFK), a much more established outfit that has nearly nine decades behind it. In 2023-24, the team – sometimes called “Athena-UMFK,” though the Athena name and logo plays the lead role – will play its third season in the First Division, which sits below the Subway Premier League as the second tier of Iceland’s promotion-relegation system.

Last season, Athena finished in seventh place with a 7-17 record, featuring a roster that included the likes of Alabama alumna Cierra Johnson (though she only played in six games), former Eastern Kentucky player Madison Pierce, and Division II product Nerea Brajac, but primarily a large contingent of young, homegrown players.

Zieniewska should, by all rights, provide the club an immediate lift thanks to her experience and basketball IQ, along with her talents as a player, of course.

Following stops at a pair of two-year schools, New Mexico Junior College and Panola College, the Lomianki, Poland native joined the Vikings in 2020-21 and immediately became a three-season starter as CSU ascended from a WBI championship season to an NCAA Tournament bid during her collegiate career. Though Zieniewska scored four points per game and had a knack for burying pivotal three-pointers (she connected at a 42.4 percent rate from behind the arc in 2022-23), her greatest value rested in some of the hard-to-measure areas of the game. She was tenth in the Horizon League in both defensive rating and defensive win shares, and was 125th nationally (out of 3,382 eligible players) in the latter category. More conventionally, the versatile six-footer averaged five rebounds per game and authored a game-saving play to clinch a late-season win over Northern Kentucky, stuffing Kailee Davis on the Norse’s final possession.

The cum laude communications studies graduate will now look to create more memorable moments during the next regular season of Iceland’s second professional circuit, which begins in September and runs through March. The top four teams in the standings then engage in a pair of best-of-five playoff rounds to determine a league champion and promotion rights.

Zieniewska’s signing places her on a small, but growing, list of Vikings alumnae currently playing professional basketball. Her former teammate, Taylah Levy, is on the home stretch of her rookie season with the NBL1’s Eastern Mavericks, while 2015 graduate Cori Coleman plays for a different NBL1 team, the Hobart Chargers (the well-traveled Coleman joined the Chargers mid-season after winning third place in the Swiss NLBW league with BC Winterthur). Additionally, Shalonda Winton, a Viking from 2009-13, played for T71 in Luxembourg in 2022-23 – the latest stop in a long career that has also included time in Iceland, with the Premier League’s Njardvik.

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