STAMFORD, Conn. – Stamford’s Fiona O’Dwyer earned women's basketball Player of the Year honors for Emmanuel College in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference, will end up the school’s third all-time leading scorer and plays in the Division III NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year Friday.
Remarkably, she almost did not have a college career. “She was the most under-the-radar player I’ve seen in my life,’’ said Emmanuel coach Barry Yosinoff, who is in his 36th season at the Boston school.
O’Dwyer earned first team all-Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference honors as a senior in 2009 when she scored 16.4 points per game and helped the Black Knights finish 17-5. It was not until she played an All-Star game at the end of the season that she caught Yosinoff's attention.
“I didn’t know where I wanted to go, I didn’t even know if I wanted to play basketball,’’ O’Dwyer said. “I didn’t even know Emmanuel existed. Even after he talked to me and did a little research, I wasn’t really interested. He said I had to come up and look at the school, and after a week or two I finally visited. Once I came here, I loved it. I think I made the decision even before I got home.”
The indifference toward O’Dwyer during her high school career is hard to explain. “I think a lot of it had to do with our team wasn’t really successful until I was a senior,’’ she said. “And I didn’t really progress until my sophomore or junior year. My game progressed rather than being a star right from the start.”
The 5-foot, 11-inch forward has continued to evolve at Emmanuel. She started 11 games as a freshman and played in all 28 of the team’s games. She started 27 games as a sophomore, when she was named the team’s most improved player and scored 13.4 points per game.
She scored 15.1 points a game last year and earned first-team all-conference honors. This winter, she has averaged 17.5 points and 9.1 rebounds and was named the MVP of the conference tournament. Emmanuel (23-5) plays the University of Rochester in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“She has become a much better defender,’’ Yosinoff said. “She was an average defender when she got here. Now she can guard any player on the other team. And she’s a much better shooter. She’s expanded her range. From 15 feet in, she’s deadly.”
O’Dwyer improved through a lot of off-season work, both at college and in Stamford. “Curtis Tinnin (the former Stamford High coach) always used to say great players are made from March to October,’’ she said. “I took advantage of the off-season training, got in better shape, took a lot of different shots. I’d spend a lot of days at the Italian Center just working on my jump shot.”
She helped Emmanuel get to the Elite Eight last season and believes the Saints can make another strong showing this winter.
“It really didn’t hit me until this past tournament that my career is almost over,’’ said O’Dwyer, who will earn a degree in business management. “It just dawned on me that it will be over soon. I’m definitely going to miss it, but we’ve had a good run. I’ll have a lot more free time. Let me just say that.”