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Kowalska Introduced As Cardinals’ Coach

Former WVU Tech coach to lead Wheeling women

photo by: Cody Nespor

Anna Kowalska was introduced as the new women’s basketball coach at Wheeling University Monday morning. Kowalska, second from left, was joined, left to right, by WU athletic director Carrie Hanna, son Noah Kjaerholt, WU president Ginny Favede and 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’re from or where you grew up. Other times, however, it has a more personal connection than that.

Despite being born in Poland and growing up in Chicago, Ill., Anna Kowalska considers her home to be West Virginia and that’s why she is returning to the state as the new head women’s basketball coach at Wheeling University.

“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 last year as the head coach at Life University in Marietta Georgia. Before that, however, she had spent nine years in Beckley as part of the coaching staff at WVU Tech.

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

Kowalska has good reason to be fond of the Mountain state. While at Tech, she found great success as a coach and it’s also where she met her husband, Nicholas Kjaerholt — who is originally 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 about it,” Kowalska said. “This is already home. My husband played at West Virginia Tech, my 5-year-old was born in Charleston, so we just wanted to come back to the state.”

Kowalska comes to Wheeling with an impressive resume as both a coach and player. After immigrating to Chicago when she was 12, Kowalska started playing basketball as a sophomore in high school. She went on 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 one year away from the game and realized that she never wanted to be away from it again.

“I just love the game,” Kowalska said. “I was out a little bit once I graduated from Kent State, I was a GA with sports administration. That year, I realized that I cannot do anything else but coach.”

She joined as an assistant coach at WVU Tech in 2013 and was elevated to head coach prior to 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 the River States Conference Coach of the Year in each of her first two seasons.

Coming to Wheeling, Kowalska thinks her experience in the state will be highly beneficial to her, especially in recruiting.

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

She takes over a young and exciting Cardinals team at Wheeling, following a one-year coaching stint by Matt Schmidt. This season, the Cardinals won seven conference games and a game in the MEC Conference Tournament. 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 of rebuilding the team,” Kowalska said of her predecessor. “My job is to just keep developing the players, keep winning, making sure they’re doing the right things academically and creating relationships.”

“I want to surprise people in the conference. All of our players that were playing 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 likes to play man defense and up-tempo offense, although her number one focus for all her teams is to work hard.

“I like hard work,” she said. “That’s how I was ever since I was little, I’ve wanted to outwork everyone. I want to outwork the other team. This is going to be our biggest thing.”

She also stressed the importance of academics and being involved in the local community for her student-athletes.

“Usually, my teams are really good academically and that’s going to 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 out there after they graduate.”

Kowalska also joins a highly-competitive MEC Conference that features the defending 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 that, I want to be challenged.”


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