The ever-competitive Tufts women’s basketball team will be losing two of its decorated graduating seniors, guard Lauren Dillon and forward Melissa Baptista. Both players have factored greatly into the team’s dominance over the last few years, which included playing in back-to-back NCAA championship games in 2016 and 2017, and both earned First Team All-NESCAC honors this year.
Dillon graduates as the program’s all-time leader in steals (266) and assists (481). Ever since her arrival on campus, the Wellesley, Mass. native has led Tufts in assists per game. In a similar vein, Baptista finished her career as the third-highest scorer in Tufts history with 1,337 points, having finished either first or second in scoring for the Jumbos in each of her last three years. The two-time All-American and Somerville, Mass. native also proved to be a player of many strengths, as she transitioned from forward to center this season in order to fill the hole in the middle left behind by Michela North (LA ’17).
“It was definitely rough because I was guarding their big player, which meant that [was] someone who was taller … stronger and bigger than me, so that became difficult just on my body,” Baptista said. “But I was glad that I was able to adapt to it for my team, especially having an All-American center graduate and stepping up as a senior to do it.”
Coach Carla Berube looked back fondly at the careers of Baptista and Dillon, recalling their respective breakout moments. For Dillon, it was stepping up after then-senior point guard and co-captain Kelsey Morehead (LA ’15) suffered a serious knee injury in Tufts’ 57–44 victory over Baldwin Wallace on Dec. 29, 2014.
“[Dillon] just stepped up and really didn’t miss a beat,” Berube said. “I can’t think of a point guard that I’ve had that was such a great floor leader, took care of the ball so well [and] played that kind of defense from minute one to 40.”
In Baptista’s case, Berube pointed to her performance against Amherst that same season, in which she put up 14 points, three rebounds and three steals in just 10 minutes of action off the bench. Berube believes that performance launched Baptista into her decorated career.
For both Dillon and Baptista, the game they remember vividly is Tufts’ matchup against St. Thomas (Minn) in the Final Four of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Trailing by 12 points with less than six minutes to play, the Jumbos went on a 19–4 run to defeat the Tommies 60–57. The team’s comeback earned a shout-out from the New England Patriots, which warmed the hearts of Dillon and Baptista — both New England natives.
“I’ve never been a part of a comeback like that before in my life,” Dillon said. “Every single person had a crucial play, and it just was such a team-effort comeback that no one saw coming. It was one of those games I’ll never forget.”
Baptista hopes to turn her film and media studies degree into a career in design development. Dillon, meanwhile, will be continuing her studies in graduate school while also staying close to the women’s basketball program: She’ll join Berube’s staff as an assistant coach for the 2018–19 season.