Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
At this time last season following a second-round loss in the NCAA Tournament with USciences, Anna McTamney was “freaking out” with a few big questions looming over her head: "Where am I gonna go? Am I gonna like it there?"
The place the former Plymouth Whitemarsh standout thought she’d spend four years playing hoops at when she committed, shut down its program and left McTamney searching for a new home.
Among the list of McTamney’s suitors was West Chester coach Kiera Wooden who sold her on the idea of the Golden Rams as a winner despite a lot of losing in the previous year.
The 5-10 guard bought in.
“I had a feeling that the program was just going to grow and become better,” McTamney said. “I looked past everything that they went through last year, and that record didn’t really faze me as much because I knew from what we had coming in we could change everything around and just continue to work for our program to make things a bit better than what they have been.”
West Chester and sophomore Ann McTamney, above, will play in the program's first Regional Final on Monday. (Photo: West Chester Athletics)
McTamney is part of a group that helped turnaround the West Chester program this season. The sophomore is in the midst of another NCAA run to start her career as wins over California (Pa.) and Charleston (W.V.) advanced the Golden Rams farther than any school in program history.
West Chester faces host Glenville State (W.V.) on Monday at 7 p.m. in the school's first Regional Final (or Sweet 16) hoping to continue making history.
“It’s actually great to be a part of such a historical team and having these accomplishments,” McTamney said. “We do deserve this. We’ve worked hard all year for it and I feel like we had a lot of people doubting us throughout the season, so we’re just trying to prove everyone wrong and show them how talented we really are.”
“I’m super grateful for everything that has happened because who knows where I would have been if I didn’t choose here?”
West Chester went 9-19 last season, including a 7-14 mark in the PSAC East before losing by 30 points in its conference tournament opener. The Golden Rams entered 2022-23 with three straight losing campaigns and without an NCAA Tournament appearance since 2018.
McTamney is one of five transfers to join the West Chester program this season along with D-I transfers junior forward Emily McAteer (Loyola Md.) and sophomore forward Michelle Kozicki (La Salle) and fellow D-II transfers sophomore forward Valerie McGriff (Bloomsburg) and Briana Seltzer (Goldey-Beacom).
They joined a promising core that was led in scoring by a sophomore and a freshman — Leah Johnson (16.7 ppg) and Alexa Abbonizio (9.7 ppg) — the prior season.
Wooden, who coached West Chester to three NCAA appearances in her first five seasons, recognized early on that she had the pieces in place for a special group.
“I just thought with the guard play we had returning and some of the other returners that we had returning,” Wooden said., “if we could figure out how to mesh that chemistry with the new pieces, that it was gonna make us more versatile. It was gonna make us more dominant in that we weren’t going to have to rely on one scorer. We were gonna hit you from all different aspects.”
“We were excited about what this team could be and we’re still excited about what they could be.”
The Golden Rams are 24-8, giving them the most wins since Wooden's first season in 2014-15. They started their season with a trip to West Virginia where they lost by 26 to Glenville and dropped a tight game to West Virginia State. They were two games Wooden hoped would pay off later on in the season.
West Chester came back to the area and won four straight but still sat at just .500 before the team’s winter break Dec. 18. They’ve won 19 of their 22 games since, including a 14-game win streak to finish the regular season.
West Virginia junior Leah Johnson scored a school-record 44 points in the team's first round win. (Photo: WCU Athletics)
Johnson, now a junior, is the team’s top scorer. The 5-5 guard is a triple-double threat, averaging 16.1 ppg, 6.4 apg and 6.0 rpg. However, this season, like Wooden predicted, she has four others joining her in double figures with Garnet Valley product McAteer (15.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg), McTamney (13.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Kozicki (13.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg) all capable of carrying the scoring load on a given night.
Johnson scored a school-record 44 points in an 80-67 win over California (Pa.) on Friday for the program’s first NCAA win since 2003 and just second NCAA win in program history. A day later, it was McTamney leading the charge as she piled up 20 points and 11 boards in a 73-60 win over Charleston (W.V.) to send the program to its first Regional Final.
“I knew that it was important for everyone to step up,” McTamney said. “I tried to do my best (Saturday) in that game just to keep the weight off of Leah’s shoulders because they were definitely going to not take it easy on her. I had to make sure I was able to help her out a bit.”
McTamney considered a few PSAC schools when she was recruited out of high school, but West Chester wasn’t one of them. Wooden said she and her staff got eyes on the former All-SOL talent too late after she was already committed.
With West Chester interested this time through the recruiting cycle, McTamney knew she was getting another program close to home with a coaching staff she felt comfortable with and teammates she already had a relationship with — her former Philadelphia Comets teammates Abbonizio and Rachel Conran, both Springfield-Delco products, were with the Golden Rams.
In McTamney, who averaged 7.3 ppg at USciences last season during a 24-5 campaign after doing a lot of winning during a four-year career at Plymouth Whitemarsh, Wooden knew she was getting a player ready to contribute with a proven track record.
“We knew we had a winner in her and that’s one of the pieces that we needed to right the ship and turn the program back around in the right direction,” Wooden said.
Wooden told her team throughout this season that there was a purpose to the 104-78 drubbing they took at the hands of Glenville in their season opener back on Nov. 12.
The Golden Rams have avenged three of their other six losses this season. Following a loss to California (Pa.) in the PSAC semifinals, West Chester took down the Vulcans to open the NCAA Tournament and hopes to do the same against Glenville to keep the historic run going.
“All year I’ve been saying that we were gearing up for this moment,” Wooden said. “I made the schedule tough for them knowing that we may not be there in November but the goal is to try and prep us for March. The fact that we are actually getting a second shot at them is kind of storybook.”
The Golden Rams have come a long, long way in the last fourth months, figuring out how the pieces all fit together. They're excited to see how they stack up this time around.
“We’re a completely different team,” McTamney said. “So I definitely think we have a great opportunity and a good chance to get a win (Monday) as long as we come out ready, and I think we're very well prepared so I’m hoping for the best.”
West Chester has just one senior in Methacton product Abby Penjuke to go along with three juniors and nine sophomores and a freshman. Regardless of Monday's result, Wooden hopes the historic run is a sign of things to come for her program.
"When you look at it on paper, it's a young team, but we I think we didn't let that youth decide what our future was gonna be," Wooden said. "It was one of those, 'Why not us?' It didn't matter how old we were. The fact that they're doing this probably a year or two ahead of schedule is just awesome."
Tag(s): Home Owen McCue College Division II Women's