Archbishop Mitty freshman McKenna Woliczko making history
SAN JOSE — In three decades as a highly successful basketball coach, Archbishop Mitty’s Sue Phillips hasn’t had a freshman quite like McKenna Woliczko.
Phillips has coached Olympians, All-Americans and WNBA stars.
Twenty minutes away at Stanford, superstar Haley Jones is a product of Phillips’ program.
14-year-old Woliczko is doing things even the grown-ups have never done in Mitty. She’s averaging double digits in points and rebounds as a freshman.
“Given the quality of our competition, it’s a testament to McKenna’s work ethic and talent that she is where she is today,” Phillips said.
Mitty McKenna forward Woliczko collects the ball for a shot. Archbishop Mitty and Bishop O’Dowd played in the Bishop O’Dowd High School basketball game for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Showcase in Oakland, Calif. on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (Joseph Dycus /Bay Area news group)
Mitty needed to score when star Morgan Cheli went down weeks ago with an undisclosed injury. Woliczko (pronounced vah-LICH-koh) helped make up for the junior’s absence, averaging 19.7 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.
Superb when you consider Woliczko’s experience. She had played less than two years of organized basketball when she came to Mitty.
But in half a season with the legendary program in San Jose, the 6-foot-2 standout has opened his eyes enough that scholarship offers have poured in from Florida, Arizona and the state of Ohio.
“Sometimes it hits me that, oh my God, I’m talking to Stanford, I’m talking to UCLA, I’m talking to these big colleges,” Woliczko said.
Mitty McKenna Woliczko (20) forward challenges a jumpshot from Bishop O’Dowd guard Devin Cosgriff. Archbishop Mitty and Bishop O’Dowd played in the Bishop O’Dowd High School basketball game for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Showcase in Oakland, Calif. on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (Joseph Dycus /Bay Area news group)
It was a meteoric rise for the hoop prodigy, who grew up more focused on softball, the sport her mother Erica played at the University of the Pacific.
Although softball is no longer his primary focus, Woliczko’s experience as a shortstop still helps him out on the field.
“A lot of the girls on the team say I have hands like fly traps and I can jump out of the gym and get whatever they throw at them,” Woliczko said.
Instead of following her mother’s path, Woliczko turned to her father’s sport. Aaron Woliczko played on the Pacific basketball team in the 1990s, helping the Stockton school win back-to-back Big West Conference championships. He is now Associate Commissioner of the West Coast Conference.
Aaron is a frequent presence on Twitter, promoting his daughter’s many highlights.
Piedmont coach Bryan Gardere says 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!”
Mitty McKenna forward Woliczko shoots a double team. Archbishop Mitty and Bishop O’Dowd played in the Bishop O’Dowd High School basketball game for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Showcase in Oakland, Calif. on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (Joseph Dycus /Bay Area news group)
Once on the court, Woliczko immediately took up basketball. She started playing in the AAU in the seventh year and dominated the under-13 competition. Promoted to U-17, she continued to thrive.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Woliczko went from 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-1 in college.
Once it became clear that basketball was her sport, the family had to decide where she would attend high school.
The decision was easy.
Even though Mitty is a 45-minute commute from the family home in San Bruno, Woliczko wanted to be part of a program that has filled his gymnasium with banners for decades.
“It’s a commitment we made because McKenna wants to play for the best program in the state, arguably the country,” Aaron Woliczko said.
(Left to right) Belle Bramer, McKenna Woliczko and Morgan Cheli listen to Sue Phillips, Mitty’s coach. Archbishop Mitty and Presentation compete in the Presentation High School basketball game in San Jose, Calif. on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. (Joseph Dycus/Bay Area News Group)
The family expected Woliczko to excel under Phillips, who coached stars such as Jones, WNBA star Danielle Robinson and three-time Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh-Jennings, but certainly not in as a rookie.
“It was crazy,” Woliczko said. “Going to Mitty, I never expected to be a starter, let alone average that many points and rebounds.”
Woliczko joined a Mitty-laden roster, which included Cheli and Loyola Marymount committing Maya Hernandez. Cheli was part of the USA national team coached by Phillips that won the FIBA Under-17 Women’s Basketball World Cup last summer.
The upper classes, especially fellow post player Hernandez, took Woliczko under their wing.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been easy basketball-wise because there are so many hurdles to overcome on the court,” Woliczko said. “But it was easy for people, because everyone was so welcoming and helpful, and so kind.”
Striker Mitty McKenna Woliczko (20) celebrates with Jacquelyn Michael (25), Niyati Bangalore (5) and other team mates. Archbishop Mitty and Bishop O’Dowd played in the Bishop O’Dowd High School basketball game for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Showcase in Oakland, Calif. on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (Joseph Dycus /Bay Area news group)
Woliczko’s contributions have helped Mitty play at a high level even with Cheli out all season. The Monarchs (18-2) are contenders to play deep in the playoffs.
Cheli’s imminent return will make Mitty even more formidable.
“I’m glad McKenna is here,” Cheli said. “I’m delighted to be back on the pitch and playing with her and the rest of the team again.”
Given the competition Mitty has already faced, Woliczko is unlikely to be star-struck when the stakes rise.
She already shone on a big stage when Mitty played in a national tournament in Arizona over the holidays, averaging 24 points and 15 rebounds in four games.
ESPN’s Shane Laflin recently named Woliczko a player to watch in recruiting, pointing out that her relentless motor skills and athleticism are her strongest traits.
Aaron Woliczko sees his daughter eventually transform into a wing that can create a rebounding offense while keeping all positions as a switchable defender. Aaron shot 38% from three points at UOP.
Phillips pointed out that a lot can change over the next 3½ years, noting that all players develop at different speeds. But the coach has high expectations for his freshman.
“I think McKenna definitely has the potential to be one of the top recruits in her class by the time she graduates from Archbishop Mitty,” Phillips said.
Mitty McKenna forward Woliczko listens to head coach Sue Phillips speak after the game. Archbishop Mitty and Bishop O’Dowd played in the Bishop O’Dowd High School basketball game for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Showcase in Oakland, Calif. on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (Joseph Dycus /Bay Area news group)