Cardoza turning Temple women’s basketball program back around

After two losing campaigns, coach Tonya Cardoza has her team on track for its third straight 20-win season.

Coach Tonya Cardoza (right), advises senior center Safiya Martin during the Owls’ 97-69 loss to Connecticut on Feb. 1 at the Liacouras Center. The Owls have won three straight games since their loss to the Huskies. KAIT MOORE FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

As Tonya Cardoza got older, her career aspirations of teaching elementary-aged students in a  classroom changed to guiding young adults on the basketball court.

The road to becoming the Owls’ head coach wasn’t always on Cardoza’s map. But it became a perfect mixture of her two loves after she developed a passion for basketball in 10th grade.

“I went to school to become a teacher and ended up finding a different way to teach,” Cardoza said. “Not so much in the classroom, but my classroom is my basketball court. It’s just something that I’ve always wanted to do, and loving basketball, being able to do both is even greater.”

Cardoza made the switch to basketball during her freshman year of high school when a club coach saw her on the cheerleading squad and encouraged her to try it. After high school, she went on to play for the University of Virginia with former Temple coach Dawn Staley.

After briefly playing professionally in Spain, Cardoza came back to the United States and coached at Connecticut under head coach Geno Auriemma for 14 seasons, when the Huskies went to the Final Four eight times.

Coach Tonya Cardoza leads discussion in the Owls’ huddle before their 97-69 loss against Connecticut on Feb. 1 at the Liacouras Center. KAIT MOORE FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

“It helped a great deal, just being able to be around Geno and his staff for that long and learning from him and how he has built the program and what it takes to be successful,” Cardoza said. “I definitely think I took a lot of that from him. Early on, I just paid attention to the little things.”

Now that both Auriemma and Cardoza coach in the American Athletic Conference, they face each other at least two times each season.

“You look at their team and you look at the way they play and how hard they can be, and she’s won an awful lot of games here,” Auriemma said after the Owls’ loss on Feb. 1. “Those kids played with a certain competitive spirit and that’s a direct reflection of Tonya and her coaching.”

Cardoza passed Staley as the Owls’ all-time wins leader on Jan. 1. She’s added 10 more victories since, bringing her total to 183 wins.

After taking over for Staley in 2008, Cardoza led the Owls to three-straight NCAA tournament appearances. The Owls haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since the 2010-11 season, when they finished 24-9.

Cardoza started her career with four 20-win seasons before back-to-back losing seasons in 2012-13 and 2013-14. She now appears to have the program back on the upswing with two 20-win seasons and deep runs in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament during the last two years.

ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme projects Temple (19-5, 9-2 The American) as a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament.

“Of course it’s exciting because coming in, they didn’t have the best record, but going off what the coaches said and just who they are as people, we knew the program was eventually going to get better,” senior center Safiya Martin said. “When you have amazing coaches, like they’re very positive and things like that, so you just kind of listen to what they say and they believed in us. So we believed in them and when you believe in each other, this is what happens.”

Maura Razanauskas can be reached at or on Twitter @CaptainAMAURAca.

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