Kowalska introduced as Cardinals coach | News, Sports, Jobs

picture by: Cody Nespor

Anna Kowalska was introduced as the new women’s basketball coach at Wheeling University on Monday morning. Kowalska, second from left, was joined, left to right, by WU Athletic Director Carrie Hanna, her son Noah Kjaerholt, WU President Ginny Favede and her husband Nicholas Kjaerholt, holding their newborn son , Kylo Kjaerholt.

WHEELING – Home is a special place, and how we define what our home is can be a funny thing. Often, home is where you came from or where you grew up. Other times, however, he has a more personal connection than that.

Although she was born in Poland and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Anna Kowalska calls West Virginia home and that’s why she’s coming back to the state as a new coach in head of women’s basketball at the University of Wheeling.

“I wanted to come back to West Virginia,” Kowalska said after her formal introduction Monday morning. “It’s closer to my friends and family.”

Kowalska spent the last year as head coach at Life University in Marietta, Georgia. Prior to that, however, she had spent nine years at Beckley on the WVU Tech coaching staff.

“I just wanted to be back, I wanted to be back up north,” she said. “We love this small town atmosphere and we really had a great time in West Virginia, the people are great here.”

Kowalska has good reason to love the state of the mountains. While at Tech she enjoyed great success as a coach and it was also where she met her husband, Nicholas Kjaerholt – who is from Denmark – and where they had their first son, Noah. Kjaerholt.

“If you asked me where I met my Danish husband and I told you West Virginia, you’d probably laugh,” Kowalska said. “It’s already home. My husband played at West Virginia Tech, my 5 year old son was born in Charleston so we just wanted to get back to the state.

Kowalska comes to Wheeling with an impressive resume as a coach and player. After immigrating to Chicago at age 12, Kowalska began playing basketball as a sophomore in high school. She continued to play in junior college and eventually spent two seasons playing at Kent State, where she was an All-MAC selection both years.

After graduating, Kowalska spent a year away from acting and realized she never wanted to be away from it again.

“I love the game,” Kowalska said. “I was kind of off once I graduated from Kent State, I was a GA with the sports administration. That year I realized I couldn’t do anything but coach.

She joined as an assistant coach at WVU Tech in 2013 and was elevated to head coach ahead of the 2018-19 season. In three years with Kowalska as head coach, the Golden Bears went 61-26, won two conference championships, and made the NAIA National Tournament in all three seasons. Kowalska was named River States Conference Coach of the Year in each of her first two seasons.

Coming to Wheeling, Kowalska believes her experience in the state will benefit her greatly, especially in recruiting.

“Starting as an assistant at West Virginia Tech, I had to recruit players from Montgomery, W.Va., which was a little difficult,” she admitted. “But I created a lot of relationships with the high school coaches in West Virginia. I prioritized West Virginia high school players because they are in our state and I want to give them first pick. I think the relationships I’ve created with the high school and AAU coaches will help me continue to build this team for a championship.

She takes charge of a young and exciting Cardinals team in Wheeling, after a one-year stint as coach by Matt Schmidt. This season, the Cardinals have won seven conference games and one MEC Conference Tournament game. Junior center Lauren Calhoun averaged a double-double on the year and led the conference in scoring with 19.4 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.

“He did a good job rebuilding the team,” Kowalska said of his predecessor. “My job is just to keep developing the players, to keep winning, to make sure they’re doing the right things academically and to build relationships.”

“I want to surprise people at the conference. All our players who played last year have more experience. If everyone stays healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up in the middle or higher in the conference.

Kowalska said she enjoys playing men’s defense and fast offense, although her number one goal for all of her teams is to work hard.

“I love hard work,” she said. “That’s how I was since I was little, I wanted to outperform everyone. I want to outperform the other team. That’s going to be our biggest thing.

She also emphasized the importance of education and involvement in the local community for her student-athletes.

“Usually my teams are very good academically and that will be my number one priority,” she said. “I love when students can walk across the stage (at graduation). I want to prepare them for what’s after they graduate.

Kowalska also joins a highly competitive MEC conference that features the reigning National Champions in Glenville State.

“I love the conference,” she said. “Glenville State just won the national championship so it’s very competitive and I love it, I want to be challenged.”

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