Richmond, VA— Shortly after confetti spread across the Richmond Coliseum, George Washington women’s basketball junior forward Kelsi Mahoney was finally able to sit down and reflect on her freshman season, which provided her biggest challenges and made her lose some love for the game.
Mahoney knew that as a post player and she would be behind Jonquel Jones, Caira Washington and Kelli Prange, and the Concord, NC native was homesick.
“I had to remind myself that I came to this school for the academics as well, for the atmosphere, for my teammates, that really pushed me through freshman year,” she said. “The best thing to happen was growing up a little bit after freshman year and the coaching staff helped too but I really had to grow up and even more in my sophomore year when I didn’t play as much. I really had to come into my own more as a player and an individual and just demand greatness from myself.”
Mahoney averaged 0.6 points per game while play in 10 contests her freshman season
After freshman season, Mahoney was tested again with a coaching change as Jonathan Tsipis accepted the Wisconsin job and Jennifer Rizzotti was brought in to coach the team.
“I was more so excited for a new opportunity and a new chance playing for a new coach, a new offense, everything,” said Mahoney. “I worked really hard after freshman year and I sure as hell worked really hard after sophomore year as well. It’s just a progression.”
In her sophomore season, Mahoney also did not start but appeared in 23 games, scoring 2.5 points.
When Rizzotti sat down with her husband Bill, who departed the GW coaching staff in the offseason, the pair knew a new offense had to be devised and they wanted Mahoney to play a bigger role in that.
“We talked a lot about Kelsi coming back this year as a very minor role player in her first two seasons and how we could incorporate an offense to take advantage of her shooting the ball and be a facilitator,” Rizzotti said. “Kelsi Mahoney is probably one of the most underrated players in the league, we run half of our offense through her, makes big shots and is really smart. She uses her intelligence and toughness to find a way.”
Mahoney has been a starter for 24 of GW’s 32 games this season and averages 8.7 points per game while stating with pride that her competitive is currently higher than it has been at any point in her basketball career.
As she was soaking in her second-ever Atlantic 10 Championship, Mahoney was all smiles.
“It is a blessing to have Jennifer Rizzotti as my head coach, I can’t stress that enough,” said Mahoney. “I am so thankful for all the support that we’ve gotten through that coaching change. Extreme props to our AD Patrick Nero and our acting AD Tanya Vogel who brought this woman in. At the end of the day this is her team, we’re playing for her. You get that respect for her because she is the greatest of all time, it’s no joke that we call her ‘The GOAT’. They’ve given me so much confidence. I kind of didn’t like basketball after freshman year. Getting this staff they’ve brought out a whole new confidence level in me and my teammates as well.”
Even as Mahoney earned a starting spot in the line up but after the a Dec. 31 loss at Fordham, she still had to face perhaps her hardest day in a GW uniform.
Mahoney had two points in that game on 1-of-5 shooting, but in her coach’s mind, her effort was lacking.
“I reamed her out in film the next day and I told her that ‘if your shot’s not going in there is no other way you can help us,” Rizzotti asked. “I called her out, basically called her selfish and since that day she really has come to the point where she understands how to be patient.”
For her part, Mahoney certainly remembers that game and that film session very well and named the opponent before the question was even completed.
“I was playing piss-poor defense, it was really bad and I let them destroy me down there,” said Mahoney. “I got into foul trouble early, couldn’t make foul shots and sulked. That’s not what I need, that’s not what this team needs. The next day, literally the entire film session, was reaming me out, and rightfully so. I took it and I haven’t looked back since. I more so than ever have worked on my defense and I am just trying to get this team to win.”
When you are challenged, the easy thing to do is take offense or sulk, but neither of these ever were options for Mahoney.
“We have too much talent,” she said. “It would be selfish of me to sulk and let this team dwindle. We needed to get going a bit and as a junior who plays big minutes now, I have to take that up on myself and I realize that.”
In the Atlantic 10 Championships, Mahoney was 14-for-26 on her three-point shots, a total amassed over four games
“I want to say when the ball goes in the basket it gives me confidence, but now it is starting on the defensive end,” Mahoney said. “I know if I can stop a post player, or anybody on their team, that they can’t stop me on the other end, that is the mentality I’ve had.”
But it has not just been about baskets for Mahoney, who now leads GW is charges taken and the one she took in a semifinal win against Dayton was one of many game changers, that afternoon.
“It’s all about finding a way for the team to win,” said Mahoney. “I pride myself at being one of the smartest on the team, basketball IQ wise, offensively and defensively. It’s become a knack and I believe I took my first charge this season too and to have those all going for me is pretty cool.”
This is an assessment Rizzotti certainly agrees as the coach sees her forward as someone who assists teammates with understanding what plays to run and where to be.
“She’s going to be on the floor for 30 minutes and someone will forget to guard her,” Rizzotti said. ” As soon as It’s a compliment that they are putting a really good defender on her because no one wants to get her going. She’s gotten to that point in her career where she has to be more creative, smarter and more patient. It’s nice to use Kelsi in a lot of different ways and when she knocks down shots it is a great reward for all of the work she’s put in.”
Following the Atlantic 10 Championships, the all-tournament team was named and Mahoney’s name was called by PA Announcer Blake Peddicord. As her teammates, coaches and fans roared in approval, Mahoney just stood there stunned.
“I’m just a kid that makes threes,” she said. “I knocked down some nice ones this tournament, but I had my whole head wrapped around that we did it and we won, it was us. I didn’t expect it, I was genuinely shocked. I am so thankful and grateful and ready to just go all out in this (NCAA) tournament.”
Each of GW’s assistant coaches, Jackie Smith, Ganiyat Adeduntan and Kevin DeMille each have helped Mahoney an aspect of her game whether it is on or off the court and these past two years as a whole have helped grow her love for the sport, one with which she stood up when it would have been easy to fall down.
“It’s been a process, falling back in love with the game, realizing the strides that I can make and will make and now seeing them pay off these last three days especially, all the hours in the gym working on my defense,” said Mahoney. “It’s been a long process and it has not been easy. To see this pay off has been fantastic, and going forward I know people have my number and that they know I will be a shooter, take charges, whatever, I am just trying to find more ways to help this team win.”