Back in 1995, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma added a new assistant coach to his staff in Tonya Cardoza.
“[Cardoza] picked a great time to come on staff, because that was the year we won our first national championship,” former UConn player and now Cincinnati head coach Jamelle Elliott said. “I guess she was a good luck charm because her first year we also went 35-0.”
The championship season also started a powerful friendship between Elliott and Cardoza as both women remain great friends. The two faced off against each other on Saturday during Temple’s 55-53 loss to the Bearcats.
Success continued with the two women as Elliott later joined Auriemma’s staff for five more national titles. This only grew the friendship as both women speak highly of each other.
“When you spend that much time with someone you just become really close and you know so much about each other,” Cardoza said. “We are always going to be dear friends. It’s just a special relationship.”
Cardoza made headlines her very first year with the Owls by getting them to a 21-10 record with a NCAA tournament birth. That would be the first of many for the Owls as Cardoza took them to three more 20 win seasons and two more tournament appearances. Cardoza has also won multiple personal awards with being named Big 5 Coach of the Year three times and Atlantic 10 Conference Coach of the Year in 2010.
Elliott matches up nearly as well as she has reinvigorated women’s basketball at Cincinnati. Elliott got her team out to a 5-0 record in her first season and has knocked off notable programs such as Marquette and St. John’s.
“Coaching with her was great because we were both trying to win a national championship and now we are in the same situation trying to build our own programs,” Cardoza said.
Even after going their separate ways in coaching the two stay very close.
“She is my best friend,” Elliot said. “We talk almost every day, and she is someone I would lay down my life for. I just can’t describe just how close we are.”
The Owls and Bearcats both play in the American Athletic Conference, which means Cardoza and Elliott face each twice a year. The first time Cardoza took the win, but this time Elliot’s team came out on top.
Stephen Godwin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.