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College Basketball

Morgan State transfer Ashia McCalla already making a splash for UMBC women’s basketball

Before her game-winning shot in the UMBC women’s basketball team’s season-opening 79-77 win against Gettysburg on Nov. 8, Ashia McCalla had last provided similar heroics when her 3-pointer lifted Morgan State to a 51-48 victory over Norfolk State on Feb. 21.

Before then, McCalla said she would have to go back to her days at Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt to find her last game-winner. So she knows that “calling game” — as the kids like to say — is rare.

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“Those are the moments you live for,” she said. “You’re just in that moment, and you just have to say, ‘I’m going to make this shot right now.’ When you hit it and you hear the crowd and there’s just that feeling of everybody standing up, that’s an amazing feeling.”

Duplicating that emotion with the Retrievers has been difficult thus far even as McCalla has emerged as one of their top players. Although they slipped to 1-3 after Thursday night’s 64-57 loss to Richmond at the Chesapeake Employers Insurance Arena in Catonsville, the graduate student shooting guard ranks second on the team in scoring at 12.0 points per game, leads in steals at 2.0, is tied for second in assists at 1.5, and ranks third in rebounds at 4.5.

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Foul trouble and a left ankle injury limited McCalla to season lows in points (eight), rebounds (three), steals (one) and minutes (18) on Thursday, but coach Johnetta Hayes said the injury was minor and that she anticipated McCalla would be able to play Sunday at St. Francis Brooklyn.

As happy as she may be about the personal numbers, McCalla said she’d be more enthusiastic if UMBC was winning.

“Scoring is cool, it’s fine and dandy, but the win is what I’m looking for at the end of the day,” she said. “If I have eight points or I have 20 points, if we get a win, I’ll be happy with that.”

After ranking second at Morgan State in overall assists, third in total steals and fifth in points and rebounds, Ashia McCalla leads UMBC in points and steals, is tied for the team lead in assists, and ranks second in rebounds.

Hayes said she understands McCalla’s urgency.

“She’s definitely someone you want to build the program on, and we want to win for her,” Hayes said. “So we’ve got to figure it out quick so that when we do get into that position, we can compete for a championship.”

Contending was almost common for McCalla when she was a member of the Bears. In her last three seasons, Morgan State finished no worse than a tie for second in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference standings and captured a share of the 2021-22 regular-season championship for the program’s first title of any kind in the league.

But after a senior campaign during which she ranked second in overall assists (37), third in total steals (35) and fifth in points (8.9) and rebounds (3.4), McCalla opted to leave the Bears for a fresh environment.

“I could have gone back to Morgan, but I was there for four years,” she said. “Everybody that I came in with came and left. We did have a good stretch last year where we did get to the [MEAC Tournament] semifinals [last winter] and had a chance to get to the championship. Things just happened how they happened. I thought it was just time for me.”

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Morgan State senior shooting guard Ja’Niah Henson said she didn’t fault her former teammate for electing to use her last year of eligibility elsewhere.

“I think people go on different journeys at different parts of their lives,” she said. “So she did what was best for her, and I can only support her and wish her the best of luck.”

McCalla drew interest from UMass Lowell, St. Peter’s and George Washington, but did not want to leave the state. So when the Retrievers offered her a spot, she pounced.

McCalla joined a program that last captured an America East regular-season title in 2010-11 and a tournament crown in 2006-07. UMBC has not finished with a winning record in the conference since the 2016-17 squad went 10-6 and placed third. Nonetheless, McCalla said she felt motivated to assist the Retrievers.

“At UMBC, I think it’s more of a redemption,” she said. “They’re looking to rebuild and defend what they’ve done in past seasons. So there is kind of some pressure to come and win.”

Morgan State coach Edward Davis Jr. pointed out that McCalla graduated with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and a 3.7 GPA. He said McCalla will bring instant credibility to UMBC.

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“Ashia was pushed for four years to be not just a scorer, but to be one of the better defensive players because part of her dream was to not only go into the engineering field, but also go overseas to play,” he said, joking that he too would seek a break from himself if he was a player. “I think she’ll do a lot for UMBC.”

Hayes said in addition to McCalla’s scoring prowess, she has grown to appreciate her ability to play defense and cause turnovers. She also noted that McCalla hates to leave the floor during games and practices.

Hayes said she and her coaches are continuing to work on developing McCalla into a more vocal leader.

“We’re encouraging that from her every day, and I’m starting to see more of it, especially after these losses,” she said. “She’ll get herself into a position where they will hear her more because she works hard every day. When someone actually does it with no complaints and just gets after it, you kind of follow their lead.”

McCalla, who was voted a team captain by teammates along with graduate student forward Kiara Bell and graduate student guard Nia Staples, acknowledged that being a talker may be one of her biggest challenges.

“It’s a little out of my comfort zone because I’m a little introverted,” she said. “That’s where it’s on me to step out of my comfort zone and be able to adjust and be able to speak up when I do see some things.”

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Hayes said McCalla is talented enough to earn a spot on the All-America East first team and defensive team. McCalla, who is studying for a master’s in cybersecurity, said she is efforting for that and more in her final year of eligibility.

“I have nothing to lose at this point,” she said. “We’ve got a couple months left, and then this is all over. So I’m trying to make the most of it.”

UMBC at St. Francis Brooklyn

Sunday, 1 p.m.


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