When Temple University women’s basketball coach Tonya Cardoza entered McGonigle Hall in 2008, she wanted to create a fast-moving and high-tempo team on the court.
Following an 11-11 overall record in the 2020-21 season, Cardoza believes the team is back to being a conference contender, she said.
“Last year we knew we wanted to play just to get the experience,” Cardoza added. “We knew that we were not in position to do a lot because we didn’t have depth. But this year we are very excited because we know we have more pieces.”
Cardoza, now entering her fourteenth season as the Owls’ head coach, has elevated the Owls’ program into a conference contender and plans on leading the team back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017 this season, she said.
She has racked up 238 wins with the Owls, the most in program history.
“It is a true testament to the type of person that she is, not only as a coach but as a person,” said assistant coach Willnett Crockett. “She knows what it takes to win and knows what it takes to motivate her players.”
Cardoza brings an aggressive coaching style that focuses on creating turnovers on defense and limiting them on offense. She coached Temple’s all-time leader in steals and assists, Alliya Butts, who averaged two steals per game during her senior season in 2018-19.
“[Cardoza] holds us to a very high standard,” said junior forward Alexa Williamson. “She expects a lot out of us, and she is hard on us, but we all know that it is from a place of love and she wants the best for everyone.”
In her first three seasons at Temple, Cardoza led the Owls to the NCAA tournament and in each of her first four seasons, she won more than 20 games.
Part of her success can be credited to her ability to unite a team, Crockett said.
“She does a really good job at getting everyone on the same page,” Crockett said. “Everyone buys into what she says and what her goals are.”
After the 2012-13 season, the Owls made the jump from the Atlantic 10 conference to the American Athletic Conference, where Temple faced tougher opponents.
The Owls quickly adjusted to the higher level of play and in just their second season in the AAC, Cardoza led the Owls all the way to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament final four and to the NCAA tournament just two years later. She also received the AAC coach of the year award in 2017.
Cardoza created a more aggressive defensive style to keep up with high-tempo offenses in the AAC. The Owls had more steals and less turnovers in their first season after leaving the A-10 conference.
Temple hired Cardoza following the departure of longtime coach Dawn Staley, who left Temple to take a job at the University of South Carolina.
Before coming to Temple, Cardoza was an assistant coach at the University of Connecticut who focused on working with guards and helped develop many high-profile players, like Sue Bird, Renee Montgomery and Diana Taurasi, who went on to have successful careers in the WNBA.
Cardoza spent her collegiate career at the University of Virginia as a guard, where she holds several records including fifth place in career blocks, eighth place in career field goal percentage and tenth place in career points.
After her collegiate career, Cardoza had a brief stint playing professionally in Segovia, Spain, for a year, before taking a job as an assistant coach at UConn under legendary college basketball coach Geno Auriemma.
Since arriving at Temple, Cardoza has earned plenty of personal honors as well. She was named the Philadelphia City Big 5 coach of the year for three consecutive years from 2009 to 2011. She was also named the A-10 conference coach of the year in 2011 after she led the Owls to a 24-9 record in the 2010-11 season.
“Sometimes we go through stuff as a team and whatever happens [Cardoza] does not let it affect her,” Williamson said. “She is always positive and ready to teach us the correct ways to do things so I think everyone is very excited about what we can do this year.”
The Owls will open their season on Nov. 9 against Saint Francis University at 7 p.m. in McGonigle Hall.