Ivy Leaf - Spring 2002
Women's Basketball Team Captures Second Straight AMCC Championship
There's an adage in sports that "individuals win awards; teams win championships."
While talent, experience and depth certainly were key factors in the conference championship run of the Penn State Altoona women's basketball team in 2001-02, members of the squad pointed to "chemistry" as the ingredient that cemented the program's place in history. With its 73-64 victory over Pitt-Greensburg in the title game of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference (AMCC) Tournament, Penn State Altoona earned the distinction as the first team to win two conference championships. Even more notably, the feat was accomplished in back-to-back years. Interestingly, those two seasons also were head coach John Nardozza's first two at the helm of the program.
The Penn State Altoona community paid tribute to the women's basketball program with a special ceremony in the Slep Student Center in early April. Dr. William G. Cale, Jr., CEO and Dean, and Fredina Ingold, Director of Athletics, presented each player and coach with a medal commemorating the 2001-02 championship. The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics also unveiled the championship banner and items that will be displayed in the trophy cases of the Adler Athletic Complex.
"I am so proud of these young women and their coaches," Ingold remarked during the ceremony. "You always represented Penn State well. Your College appreciates you."
The play of Nardozza's team can best be described as "unselfish." Any one of the five starters was capable of leading the team in scoring on a given night. And the top priority for the players, when on offense, was to find the open shooter; not to pad individual point totals. With that level of balance, an offensive juggernaut was created. For the season, Penn State Altoona (19-6 overall record) averaged better than 70 points per game and totaled 75 or more points seven times.
Sophomore guard/forward Jill Klinar, a first-team All-AMCC selection, led the team in scoring in 15 of 25 games, scoring 20 or more points eight times. She noted that everyone was on board with the "spread-the-wealth" offensive philosophy.
"We all know our roles. We're all willing to give up the ball for the benefit of the team," Klinar stressed. "At the same time, each one of us is willing to step up and make a big shot to jumpstart the offense."
Junior guard Kristen Toomey definitely stepped up in the AMCC championship game, netting a game and career high 29 points. That wasn't the first time that her star shone brightly on the big stage. As a senior at Bishop Guilfoyle High School, Toomey scored 26 points in the Class A title game of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Championships.
After winning its first conference title on the road, Penn State Altoona began the 2001-02 season with its sights set on hosting the AMCC Tournament, a right reserved for the regular season champion. To the outsider, prospects for achieving that objective were somewhat in doubt after a 7-5 start, but the Lady Cougars remained steadfast in their resolve, completing a 10-2 AMCC campaign atop the standings. Toomey said the team's collective self-confidence was unaffected by the slow start.
"We weren't down on ourselves," stated Toomey. "We knew we weren't playing the way we knew we were going to play. Our goal was to have the tournament here. We counted on it."
Coach Nardozza pointed to the Gettysburg College Tournament in early February as a pivotal turning point in the team's season. In the title tilt against Gettysburg, Penn State Altoona rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit to win by 17. In the six games that followed (all wins), including the conference tournament, the team's average margin of victory was 21 points.
"I felt good when we won the Gettysburg Tournament," Nardozza recalled. "I felt that team unity was there. We really had character. It snowballed from there. We played pretty well just about every night after that. That tournament set the tone."