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A basketball journey: McCarthy comes home

by Matthew Ondesko: Managing Editor

Photos: Geoff Schneider/Sports Union

For anyone, making a decision on where they want to spend their four years in college is never an easy decision.

Former Cardinal O’Hara High School basketball standout Mia McCarthy had her choice of where she wanted to continue her college career. After mulling over a lot of offers, McCarthy decided on heading down to Alabama to play Division II ball.

To say it was a culture shock was a big understatement. McCarthy just couldn’t get comfortable down south, but she didn’t just want to make a snap decision on coming back home. While she was unhappy, McCarthy wanted it to give it at least two years before making a decision.

However, after the first year, McCarthy made the decision to enter the transfer portal, and try and find a school that was the right fit for her.

“I went through a tough time down there in Alabama, it was a culture shock! I agreed with my parents no matter what I would try and give it two years to feel it out,” stated McCarthy. “After the first year, being 14 hours from home and only seeing my parents three times that whole time I was gone was extremely hard for me. I had anxiety, couldn’t eat, didn't feel myself, lost more than 30 pounds three months into being there. The coaches didn’t help. I felt that I was out of place and not living up to my potential being there. I knew I had to come home.”

While coming home was a good idea, the transfer portal was three times the size as it was when McCarthy was in high school. The portal allows college athletes to transfer to another school without having to sit out a year.

While you see it in force in college football, more than 1,300 college athletes entered the portal this past season, other sports like basketball have seen a huge turnover. As McCarthy entered the portal coming home might have meant taking a step down.

While she was in high school, D’Youville was recruiting her pretty hard, even offering her a full ride. But, when she contacted them again, while in the portal, there was a change at the coaching position - and the offer just wasn't there.

“Coming back and the transfer portal being three times the size it was when I was in high school was also a setback. I was offered a full scholarship at D’Youville my senior year in high school and I chose Alabama over that. So I immediately tried to contact D’Youville again but sadly they had a different coach so I was unable to receive that same offer,” explained McCarthy. “My other remaining options were JCC, NCCC and Villa Maria. I received full rides for all three schools so the only decision left was which school feels right to me. My father, Michael McCarthy coaches at Villa Maria so it was hard not to pick it. He’s a great coach who knows what he is doing. Most importantly I felt comfortable there, which is what I needed the most after Alabama."

While it was an easy decision to choose Villa because of her father, it still was a shot to her ego. McCarthy was a sough after player while at Cardinal O’Hara. She had a lot of Division II offers, but those offers weren’t there in the portal - or at least when she wanted to come home.

So, McCarthy had to check her ego at the door and realize that she wasn’t a “failure” because she wasn’t playing Division I or Division II hoops. After getting into the system at Villa, McCarthy realized that this was the best fit for her.

“I think the only hard decision for me was my ego bruising. I had worked hard my whole life to be able to go to a NCAA Division I or Division II school and I didn’t want to be a “failure” in my eyes because I am stepping down a level,” stated McCarthy. “When in reality it was the best thing for me. Coming into Alabama I was expected to be a starter however with the Covid year rule being implemented three starters were fifth year seniors. Two of the starters being my position, this was tough competition for an 18 year old girl at the time competing against 23 year olds. 12 games or 30 games I had expectations to start. The decision wasn’t tough at all after all I went through. I knew I needed to leave.”

Back home where she belongs, McCarthy needed to get acclaimed to playing again. She went from being at the bottom of the totem pole in Alabama to being on the court 30 plus minutes a game. McCarthy had to get used to being the main person.

The offense was going to run through her every time she stepped on the court. She always had the basketball IQ to compete at any level of basketball. Now, she was just trying to get her legs back underneath her.

“The biggest transition for me playing for villa last year was my role. I came from being the bottom of the totem pole in Alabama to having to be the main play maker on the team on and off the court,” stated McCarthy. “I felt a sense of purpose again and became comfortable which helped me have a great season last year”

If McCarthy thought she was going to fly underneath the radar she was sadly mistaken. School’s know the offense will run through her all the time, and they are making it extremely difficult for her to get her shots off.

But, this isn’t really a big surprise for her. McCarthy was used to seeing this kind of pressure when she was playing at Cardinal O’Hara. There are times McCarthy could get frustrated but she keeps a pretty level head.

Whether she is dropping 30 points or not scoring at all, McCarthy’s demeanor is always the same.

“This isn’t a big surprise to me or my team. Teams have been face guarding me since mid season last year. Every game plan when this happens is for me to be a decoy to help my team win. I will obviously try my best to come off screens and score as well as I can being face guarded but times like these are where my team gets the opportunity to score the ball,” stated McCarthy. “I keep a pretty level head in game time situations. I could have 30 points and no points and still have the same charisma. I look at the game in sections. Each quarter is a section. If I am not doing something well and I notice it at halftime I tell myself I HAVE to

do this better the next half.”

McCarthy just isn’t killing it on the court, but she is dominating in the classroom - as well. When you think of student-athlete look no further than McCarthy. She is taking a full course load, six classes and 18 credits, and should deb rocking a 4.0 this semester.

That’s on top off carrying a full workload her first year at Villa. Basketball is nice, but academics comes first.

“I am actually taking six classes this semester, which translates to 18 credits for me and took 12 classes, which was 36 credits last year at Villa - which is a lot to handle at times. I make sure to manage my time and make schedules so I can balance basketball, work and school all in one day,” stated McCarthy. “Last year I had a 3.4 GPA first semester, a 3.3 GPA second semester and am on track to get a 4.0 for this semester. School always comes first. I was taught that at a young age, so that is my first priority, then basketball. I am pretty good at the time management thing. I don't know if it comes from lots of practice or not but it’s easy to get it all done.”

Between school, work, and hoops, McCarthy doesn’t have a lot of time to herself, but does try to take advantage of any free time she might have. That usually comes during the holiday season or after practice.

But, even then, she is catching up on her homework or just trying to relax.

“The only real time I have for myself is when we have breaks such as thanksgiving break, Christmas break etc. and of course at night after practice,” stated McCarthy. “We also have off on weekends sometimes so I get to catch up on my schoolwork or just relax.”

McCarthy’s basketball journey has been one that she may have not thought would happen this way when she was in high school, But, all the twist and turns have made her the person that she has become.

Sure, it would have been easy for McCarthy to just give up and quit. She could have been like it just didn’t work out and try something new. But, adversity is what makes people stronger.

McCarthy sure knows about adversity, probably more than most people care to know about it. Adversity, however, is what has made her stronger.

“Honestly, I think my basketball journey is what makes me who I am as a person today.

Adversity will make anyone strong,” stated McCarthy. “I have been through a lot of stuff, more than people know. I think not quitting in those hardships has made me more resilient and has an impact on who I will be in the future. Basketball has taught me to be tough and things aren’t fair sometimes but I correlate that to life as well.”

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