As a Sagehen, Alaina Woo PO ’17 has seen it all.
She was on the court as a player in 2017, when the Pomona-Pitzer women’s basketball team finished at the bottom of the conference with an overall record of 1-23 — its only win coming against SCIAC opponent La Verne.
Just two years later, Woo was there as the Sagehens concluded the 2018-2019 season with a 22-6 record and defeated Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 60-57 in the SCIAC Championship game, earning their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2002.
Only then, Woo was on the sidelines, serving as an assistant to then-head coach Jill Pace.
Woo has stood witness to the steady rise of P-P women’s basketball. Now, as head coach, she’s ready to take the team even higher.
“Obviously, there’s challenges and transitions I had to go through moving from assistant to interim to head coach, but at the end of the day, our team knows our values, we know our boundaries,” Woo said. “There’s definitely transitional pieces, steps we’ve had to take — but luckily, our team culture has been years in the making.”
This past season, Woo led P-P to a 15-11 record (10-6 SCIAC) and an appearance in the SCIAC Tournament as the No. 4 seed, where the Hens fell to the eventual champion, Redlands, in a hard-fought battle 53-51.
Though the outcome of that game may have been disappointing, Woo said that it will fuel the Sagehens — who will not be graduating any seniors — going into next season, if the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t prevent them from competing.
“Our team finished this season hungry, and I think they’re carrying that into the summer and into the offseason,” she said. “There’s takeaways from every game we played this season. I don’t necessarily see one game as any more important than the others, but I do think ending that season … the way it did is definitely motivation for our players to just work hard, be hungry and all know that they’re going to have the opportunity to do the same thing next year and be even more ready when those moments roll around.”
Woo’s proximity in age to her athletes, she said, even helps her better understand what her team might be going through, whether that be that difficult end to a tournament or something as simple as class schedules.
“I think first and foremost, I’m able to empathize with my players. Even if we don’t see eye to eye on something, I can usually at least understand what they’re going through,” Woo said. “Even just down to little things — ‘I have this class with this professor,’ or ‘I’m taking this class on this campus.’”
Emily Church PO ’23, who averaged 9.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game on the season, explained that having Woo as a coach takes some of the pressure off of the student-athlete’s stress of juggling rigorous academics with strenuous practice schedules.
“Having Coach Woo hav[ing] been in college so recently really makes her understand what we’re going through and how stressed out we can be sometimes, and just the life of a college student and being a student-athlete, she just understands so well,” Church said.
And as a student athlete, Woo was indeed a dedicated player, boasting a decorated career as a player from 2013-2017.
Her 1,093 career points put her at ninth all time, and she currently holds the record for career three-pointers made with 160, 23 more than the next-highest. She was also named First Team All-SCIAC her senior year, when she averaged a team-high 16.7 points per game.
Outside of the classroom, the public policy analysis major was a member of P-P’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee as well as the NCAA National Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, served as a PPA liaison and was heavily involved in advocacy for student-athletes, especially interested in Title IX as it interacts with student athleticism.
In spite of her personal accolades as a player and early success as a coach, Woo said that her favorite part about being a Sagehen has been watching the program prosper in the hands of her teammates and the students she coaches.
“I think since I started here as a player to where we are now, we’ve just gone through so much evolution and change, and what’s been consistent in that process has just been our team and our players and the women who have come in here and just work hard every single day,” she said.
Woo praised her team’s focus on incremental improvements for what she called “a lot of really awesome success” on the court.
“To me, it’s really just a ‘get better every day’ mentality, and I feel like since I’ve seen the last eight years of this program, our team truly has gotten better every single day since I’ve been here,” she said. “That’s all I can really ask for.”
Nowadays, Woo enjoys cooking and listening to podcasts, and says being able to coach at her alma mater is “great.”
“It’s extra special for me being an alum, but I think it’s special even just standing alone,” she said. “That, I think, speaks to the true value of places like Pomona and Pitzer.”