The Wolfpacker

March-April 2020 issue

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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MARCH 2020 ■ 23 movies as a kid. She was too busy enjoying the outdoors, playing softball or perfecting her basketball moves. "That was my happy place," she said. Of course, she has dreams of playing in the WNBA after school. At 6-5, she has the size and skills to one day compete there. "I know that's a long ways away," she said. For now, her life is guided by more im- mediate goals: leading the Wolfpack to its first ACC women's championship since 1992, a deep run in the NCAA Tourna- ment and a study-abroad trip to Italy this summer, a rare opportunity for a Division I student-athlete. The Angel Above It's not fair to former NC State and current Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper, nor cur- rent Wolfpack coach Wes Moore, to bring all things regarding NC State women's basketball back to Hall of Fame head coach Kay Yow. Both put individual stamps on the program and created successful teams during their ten- ures, and this is not to diminish any of that. But there's no doubt that Cunane is the kind of player that would have made Yow smile. A big center in the mold of former Wolfpack star Genia Beasley, Cunane has power moves inside and a soft outside jumper. She has room to grow, of course, but she's handled living inside a 6-5 frame with success throughout her early development. For one thing, like Yow, Cunane grew up just outside of Greensboro in Summerfield, leading Northern Guilford High School to three consecutive appearances in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A finals, winning titles in 2017 and '18. She scored more than 2,000 points and grabbed nearly 1,500 rebounds for the Nighthawks, and is on pace to finish with similar numbers at NC State. More than almost anything, Yow loved her Guilford County roots, and appreciated any- one who shared them. Secondly, Cunane plays with the kind of positive attitude Yow always showed, whether she was winning a gold medal as the head coach of the U.S. Olympic team or her recur- ring bouts of breast cancer that eventually took her life on Jan. 24, 2009. Yow never let her spirit fail, even when her body did. "Don't drown in self-pity," Yow used to say. "Swish your feet a little, then get out." It's a lesson Dan Cunane has often tried to imbue in his two children. "Attitude and effort, work on the things you can control," Dan Cunane said. "Elissa learned that very early on. You can't control how good the other team is or how rough they are or what the level of officiating is. "But you can control how you react to it." Finally, Yow loved anyone who gave every- thing they had to give to NC State, whether it was on the basketball court, in class or by representing the university with the same high standards to which she held herself. "Coach Yow liked high-achieving people who would do anything to get better," An- tonelli said. "Elissa has that quality. She's the kind of player you want to have around. Easy to like, eager to get better. And she's still just a kid." But she's a mature 19-year-old whose deep connection to the late coach shows every time she steps on the court, whether it's intentional or not. "She left us this legacy, with everything she went through," Cunane said. "I think that impacts me every single day. Whenever I walk across her name on the court, I think about how much strength she showed. I wonder if I can have that same strength and bring ev- erything I have to this court every single day. "Because you never know when it's going to be your last day on the court. It could be tomorrow or in a couple of years. You have no clue." Instead, she grins. There's a choice behind that big smile. ■ Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker and can be reached at Cunane's support system includes her father, Dan, mother, Sharon, and older brother, Will (not pictured). PHOTO COURTESY THE CUNANE FAMILY What They're Saying About Elissa Cunane "I like our offensive balance. Elissa Cunane, she really helps us do what we like, which is to have that inside-outside balance. We try to make teams pick their poison. If they guard Elissa one- on-one, we're confident that she's going to score most of the time. And if they do bring help, she's got people around her who can knock down threes. This ain't rocket science." — NC State women's basketball coach Wes Moore ( "Cunane is a double-double machine who has put herself in the conversa - tion for the conference's Player of the Year award. Cunane is a tough rebounder, a skilled defender and also has a soft touch around the rim." — reporter Mitchell Northam "They're just so talented. Cunane, I think, is one of the best posts in the country, but their guard play is really good, too." — Notre Dame women's basketball Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw ( "It's one thing if she catches the ball low on the paint, you've got problems. That's the one thing that I've taken away from watching a lot of film. You've got to try to mix things up. You can't just play one way. If she gets comfortable, then you've got yourself a problem." — Louisville women's basket - ball coach Jeff Walz (Associated Press) "She's tough, but we knew that com- ing into this game. What she did to us she does to everybody, so I'm not surprised at all." — Virginia women's basketball coach Tina Thompson (As - sociated Press)

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