Temple women’s basketball forward becomes vocal leader in starting role

Shannen Atkinson has started in each of the Owls six games, after an injury limited her last season.

Junior forward Shannen Atkinson prepares to shoot during the Owls’ 58-52 win against St. Joseph’s on Nov. 9 at Hagan Arena. | JUSTIN OAKES / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Shannen Atkinson didn’t start playing basketball until eighth grade. And she felt like she’d fallen behind.

To catch up to girls who had played the sport longer than her, she took extra shots in the gym and played pickup games at a local YMCA. 

In her senior year of high school, the extra work helped Atkinson earn a McDonald’s All-American nomination. 

Her determination stuck with her: Now, the junior center has earned a starting role in the Owls’ frontcourt, already recording career highs in total points and rebounds in season’s first six games. 

 “Shannen has been showing me every day, every game, every practice, that she wants to be out there and contribute and help us win,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “She has put in a lot of time in the gym and it is showing in the games.”

Last season, Atkinson missed 18 games of her sophomore year due to a hip injury.

In the Owls’ 74-68 loss to Marist College on Nov. 18, Atkinson recorded her first double-double. On Friday against Radford University, she grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds in Temple’s 56-50 loss.

After her injury, Atkinson had surgery and then completed approximately six months of physical therapy. She was just cleared to play again in the second week of September.

“I missed a lot of time especially in the offseason, which is the time where you can get better,” Atkinson said. “But I’m just happy to be on the floor and being able to help my team win because we had a losing season last year, so I just want to contribute whatever I can.”

Atkinson leads Temple with one block per game. Last season, despite playing in just 13 games, Atkinson led the team with 12 blocks in total. 

She is averaging 6.3 rebounds per game this year, with a 2.6 career average.

“She brings determination, and she just doesn’t give up at all,” junior forward Shantay Taylor said. “She works really hard and she makes you push yourself and she doesn’t give up, so it’s great playing with her.”

Atkinson is a vocal player who likes to encourage the team, even when trailing in games, Taylor added.

Throughout her time at Temple, Atkinson found her voice. During her freshman year, Atkinson was intimidated to talk during games, she said. As her confidence has grown, so have her communication abilities.

“I feel like now, I’m really good at talking, it’s just like second nature to me,” Atkinson said. “I was uncomfortable talking, so maybe the freshmen that we have not might not be comfortable talking, so I just have to make sure the older voice is still heard.”

Now, as one of the Owls’ four upperclassmen, Atkinson is a leader on the team who has strong relationships with her teammates, Taylor said. 

Because the two have played together since joining the team in 2016, Atkinson’s injury last season was difficult for Taylor, too.

“It was a little rough since we kind of fed off each other,” Taylor said. “But then I just started to think about her and try to play for her and keep positive for her.”

Cardoza expects Atkinson to continue growing and improving as an important player in the lineup. She is encouraged that she’ll stand out as a defender.

The Owls will play No. 16 DePaul University in Chicago on Dec. 3.

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