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Posted: Saturday, March 1, 2014 8:53 am

Woods having a season for the ages at Wheelock College

Just over 14 months ago, Michelle Woods sat on a bench outside the Larry Cushing Gymnasium during an interview as she was named the 2012 Town Crier Female Athlete of the Year.

She was awaiting a start to a new basketball season as a senior at WHS, she had her future already planned out. She wanted to go to college to play basketball and perhaps even tennis, and she wanted to earn a degree in elementary education. At that time she had been accepted to Wheelock College, had applied to four other schools and had yet to decide where she would attend college.

By the end of the high school basketball season, Woods helped lead the Wildcats to another successful state tournament run. She was a very good player on a very successful program, and by the time the team lost to Reading she had decided that she would be attending Wheelock College, a very small college in Boston, to study to become a teacher and to continue to play basketball.

“When I had applied to Wheelock and watched the basketball team play, I realized that they didn’t have a strong program,” she said. “That was part of the challenge for not only me but for the other incoming players to see if we could change the program.”

And girl has she ever.

Woods has compiled 490 points during the regular season playing for the Division 3 program out of the New England Collegiate Conference. Yes, that’s right 490 points. She is halfway to the 1,000 point plateau and she hasn’t completed her freshman season yet.

Her 490 points broke the program’s record for a freshman player and she currently ranks eighth in scoring in the program’s history.

Wheelock College started out in 1995-’96 playing just a handful of games before becoming a legitimate program in the 1998-’99 season. Before this season, the Wildcats had never had a winning season, had a combined record of 59-347, went through ten coaches and played in two different leagues. The previous time the team made the playoffs was back in 2001-’02 when it finished 0-14 and automatically qualified as the last seed.

On Tuesday night, the Wildcats enter the NECC tournament as the No. 7 seed and will face the No. 2 seed Elms College in the quarterfinal round.

This 2013-’14 season has been historical for Wheelock, matching the school record for victories with a 6-19 mark, including 5-13 in league play.  The team has set school records for points (1,529), field goals made (537), field goal percentage (.343, 537-1566), free throws made (364), rebounds (1,153), assists (311) and blocked shots (83) this year.

So much of that is due to the play of Woods.

"Michelle Woods has been so much fun to coach this season. She has had a phenomenal freshman year. Statistically speaking, she has single handedly carried us in almost every single game,” said second-year head coach Ganiyat Adeduntan.

Woods has started 24 of the 25 games and ranks first in minutes per game (33.7), points per game (19.6) and is second with field goal percentage of 40.1.

In addition, she averages 9.6 rebounds per game, has 29 steals and 17 blocks on the season. Her stats and presence in the line-up has earned her the NECC Rookie of the Week honors six times this season.

“She does so much for this team both defensively and offensively,” said Adeduntan. “She always draws so much attention on offense, but because she's selfless, she knows when to create and make the extra pass to her teammates. That to me is what makes a good player a great player; when they can create opportunities for their teammates and in turn make them better.

“Michelle has a great work ethic, mental toughness and attitude. She works hard, is extremely coachable and is such a great teammate. What is remarkable is that she still has so much more potential to grow as a player.  I'm excited to see how she will continue to develop over the next three years". 

When she was in high school, Woods was a solid rebounder, she scored on put backs but also had an incredible ability to score off baseline drives or cut moves in the lane. She had her better games, sometimes reaching 16 or 18 points, mostly in the playoffs but usually was good for a dozen points and eight to rebounds a game. That’s not the case a year later in another Wildcat uniform.

“Honestly I didn’t even think about points but I’m happy to be able to be scoring (the way I am) now,” she said. “I think my game high in high school was twenty and that came in a playoff game. It’s exciting to score (more this year) but I know I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. They are the ones who pass me the ball and they are the ones who also shoot and rebound.

“It’s exciting but at the same time I have worked very hard for this. I just think it’s happened because I’m still growing as a player. I have improved every game but my teammates and my coaches are the ones who have helped me so much – they are working just as hard every single day.”

Another difference is playing another position. In high school Woods would usually play the four-position (power forward) but did see action at the five-spot (center). Now at Wheelock, she’s the team’s center.

“It’s not a huge difference because I did play center a few times in high school,” he said. “Playing four or five is pretty similar, and there’s not a huge change. I am posting up a lot more. And the tough part of that is I’m just a freshman and I’m going up against some really big girls who are juniors and seniors so I know I just got to be strong. But right now it’s working out.”

The highlight of the season for Woods came in the team’s double-overtime 88-83 win over Southern Vermont. In that game Woods ended up with a whopping 35-point game, as well as five assists and five steals.

“That was a huge game for us and we needed to win that game to qualify for the playoffs,” she said.

This past Tuesday night, the team took on Elms College in the quarterfinals of the NECC Tournament.

“We have lost to them twice this year,” she said. “Both times we were in the games and then we either lost it in the second half or our defense slacked at the wrong time. They say it’s very hard to beat a team three times in a season. We’re hoping that happens so keep your fingers crossed.”

Whether or not Wheelock wins that game or not is inconsequential. What is important is that Michelle Woods has taken a monster leap in her basketball game and has helped completely turn a collegiate program around … in just her first year.

Her stats could lead her to a bigger or better program but she said she’s not going anywhere. She’s a Wildcat.

“I love the school,” she said. “The professors are great, the classes are small which I like and the school is in Boston and I still have a lot of exploring to do. I’m surrounded by a lot of great people, and my coaches and teammates are so great. I’ve been having a great time.”

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