The Mercury News
Woliczko, just 14, is having unprecedented success for storied Mitty program
SAN JOSE >> In three decades as a highly successful basketball coach, Archbishop Mitty's Sue Phillips has not had a freshman quite like McKenna Woliczko.
Phillips has coached Olympians, All-Americans and WNBA all-stars. Twenty minutes up the road at Stanford, superstar Haley Jones is a product of Phillips' program.
Woliczko, 14, is doing things even the great ones never did at Mitty. She is averaging double digits in points and rebounds as a freshman.
“Given our quality of competition, it's a testament to McKenna's work ethic and talent that she's where she is today,” Phillips said.
Mitty had a need for scoring when star Morgan Cheli went out in December because of an undisclosed injury. Woliczko (pronounced vah-LICH-koh) has helped make up for the junior's absence, averaging 19.8 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.
Stunning when you take into account Woliczko's experience. She had played less than two years of organized basketball when she arrived at Mitty.
But in half a season with the storied San Jose program, the 6-foot-2 standout has opened enough eyes that scholarship offers are rolling in from the likes of Florida, Arizona and Ohio State.
“Sometimes it just hits me that, oh my gosh, I'm talking to Stanford, I'm talking to UCLA, I'm talking to these great colleges,” Woliczko said.
It has been a meteoric rise for the hoops prodigy, who grew up more focused on softball, the sport her mother Erica played at the University of the Pacific.
Though softball is no longer her primary focus, Woliczko's background as a shortstop still helps her on the court.
“A lot of girls on the team say I have hands like fly traps, and that I can jump out of the gym and get anything they throw,” Woliczko said.
Instead of following her mother's path, Woliczko turned to her father's sport. Aaron Woliczko played on Pacific's basketball team in the 1990s, helping the Stockton school win backto-back Big West Conference championships. He is now an associate commissioner with the West Coast Conference.
Aaron is a frequent presence on Twitter, promoting his daughter's many highlights.
Piedmont coach Bryan Gardere said Woliczko has the skills and intangibles to become an all-time great.
“She continues at this rate, she will be one of those players that people talk about for generations to come,” Gardere wrote in a text. “I'm excited to watch her grow and represent the Bay Area!”
Once she got on the court, Woliczko took to basketball immediately. She started playing AAU in seventh grade and dominated under-13 competition. Promoted to U-17, she continued to thrive.
Of course, it didn't hurt that Woliczko grew from 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-1 in junior high.
Once it became clear that basketball was her sport, the family had to decide where she'd go to high school. The decision was easy.
Even though Mitty is a 45-minute commute from the family's home in San Bruno, Woliczko wanted to be part of a program that has filled its gym with banners for decades.
“This is a commitment that we've made because McKenna wants to play for the best program in the state, arguably the country,” Aaron Woliczko said.
The family expected Woliczko to excel under Phillips, who has coached stars such as Jones, WNBA all-star Danielle Robinson and three-time Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh-Jennings. But nobody expected this much from a 14-yearold freshman.
“It's been crazy,” Woliczko said. “Going to Mitty, I didn't expect to be a starter, let alone averaging that many points and rebounds.”
Woliczko joined a loaded Mitty roster, one that included Cheli and Loyola Marymount commit Maya Hernandez. Cheli was on the U.S. national team coached by Phillips that won the under-17 FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup last summer.
The upperclassmen, particularly fellow post player Hernandez, have taken Woliczko under their wing.
“I wouldn't say it's been easy basketball-wise, because there's so many obstacles you have to overcome on the court,” Woliczko said. “But it was easy people-wise, because everyone has been so accepting and helpful, and just so nice.”
Woliczko's contributions have helped Mitty play at a high level even with Cheli out since the early stages of the season. The Monarchs (20-2) are contenders to play deep into the postseason.
Cheli's pending return will make Mitty even more formidable.
“I'm glad McKenna's here,” Cheli said. “I'm excited to get back out there and play with her and the rest of the team again.”
Given the competition that Mitty has already faced, Woliczko isn't likely to become starstruck when the stakes get higher.
She already shined bright on a big stage when Mitty played at a national tournament in Arizona over the holidays, averaging 24 points and 15 rebounds over four games.
ESPN's Shane Laflin recently named Woliczko as a player to watch in recruiting, pointing out that her nonstop motor and athleticism are her strongest traits.
Aaron Woliczko sees his daughter eventually morphing into a wing who can create offense off the bounce while guarding all positions as a switchable defender. Aaron shot 38% from threepoint range at UOP.
Phillips emphasized that much can change in the next 3 1/2 years, noting that all players develop at different speeds. But the coach has lofty expectations for her star freshman.
“I think McKenna certainly has the potential to be one of the top recruits in her class by the time she graduates from Archbishop Mitty,” Phillips said.