E’Anna Won lived on the Pacific Island of Saipan until she was 8 years old. Then she changed climates completely and spent close to a year in Alaska. The only logical destination after that was Wadsworth.
So when the 17-year-old high school junior talks about how nerve-wracking it was going from playing CYO basketball at Sacred Heart School to varsity point guard for the Grizzlies as a freshman, it’s all relative.
Won’s life, after all, has involved a series of adjustments, and she’s thrived through each and every one, including the biggest.
That wasn’t going from 90-degree weather in Saipan, a commonwealth of the United States and part of the Northern Mariana Islands, to tiny Glennallen, Alaska (pop. 483). It wasn’t going from Alaska to Wadsworth, either.
No, no, no, no.
An affable teenager with a quiet, intelligent sense of humor, Won lists her biggest adjustment to date as transitioning from an eighth-grader at relatively small Sacred Heart to a ninth-grade student at, to her way of seeing the world at the time, massive Wadsworth High.
“The first few days, I thought I would get lost in that school,” she said Thursday. “Going from a tiny building (at Sacred Heart) to Wadsworth, I was asking all the teachers where I should go. But I got the hang of it by the second week.
“Basketball,” she added, “helped me have a connection with my fellow classmates. It made school a lot easier.”
Whether her life has involved going from constantly wearing shorts in Saipan to seeing snow for the first time in Alaska — or from being introduced to basketball through the Glennallen Little Dribblers to starting for one of the most storied high school programs in Ohio — Won has become an expert at adapting to her surroundings.
The owner of a 4.2 grade-point average, she works extremely hard and wants to succeed at everything she does, but she’s also learned not to sweat the small stuff or agonize over things that are out of her control.
“I’m sure she was scared to death, but she never said anything,” Wadsworth coach Andrew Booth said of Won’s freshman season on the varsity. “She is a very quiet individual until you get to know her. She didn’t let on that she may have been in over her head or that she was nervous. She was very stoic.
“She was trying to absorb everything she could and do the best she could. When you don’t have experience and you’re playing point guard at a place like Wadsworth, where expectations are always sky high, that’s got to be rough. To her credit, she handled it as well as anyone could have. That could break some kids.”
Not even a chance.
Won’s mother, Dora, is a native of Saipan. Her father, Chong, is from South Korea. Chong had moved to Ohio long ago, but went to visit his brother, who lived in Saipan, liked the island and decided to stay.
Chong became a police officer, met Dora at a wedding both were attending and they eventually got married and had five children — oldest sons Walter and A.J., daughters E’Anna and Ky’Sonna, now a ninth-grader playing junior varsity basketball at Wadsworth, and youngest son Manai.
E’Anna Won loved island life — she attended a private school and was one of seven students in her first-grade class — and hasn’t ruled out returning to Saipan as an adult. But when her dad decided to attend law school at the University of Akron, the rest of the family packed up and moved up the road — or ocean — to Alaska, where Dora’s sister lived.
“I was really excited to see the snow,” Won said. “I just wanted to play in it all the time. Now I’m not so sure anymore. I think I’ve grown tired of it.”
Manai was born shortly after the move to Alaska, a state memorable to Won for at least one other reason.
“Alaska is where I started my basketball career,” she said. “My aunt signed us up for Glennallen Little Dribblers.”
Located 180 miles northeast of Anchorage, Glennallen is a picturesque town, but it didn’t have much to offer a precocious 9-year-old, so Won didn’t object at all when her dad graduated from law school and moved the family to Wadsworth.
“You would drive and all you would see was trees,” she said of Glennallen. “It was very pretty, but there was nothing to do. It was four hours to the nearest mall.”
Moving to Wadsworth was a fairly easy adjustment, particularly because attending Sacred Heart kept Won in a smaller school and gave her time to adapt to the city as a whole.
At the same time, she was improving her basketball skills, though an even bigger adjustment awaited in that area when Won began attending Wadsworth High as a freshman.
“At Sacred Heart, basketball wasn’t a constant thing that I was doing,” she said. “We’d have practice twice a week. All the other days, it would just be me and my dad shooting at the YMCA.”
When Won was a freshman, Wadsworth was coming off a Division I state championship that was due in large part to superstar Jodi Johnson, who graduated in 2016 and is now an All-American at Ashland.
The team’s next-best player was point guard Sophia Fortner, who went on to earn a full ride to Toledo, but she had suffered a torn ACL over the summer and would miss the entire 2016-17 season.
“I didn’t have any clue what was going on,” Won said. “I was new, I didn’t know the girls and I was just starting to make friends. Then I heard Sophia had gotten hurt, but I didn’t think I’d be playing much varsity.”
Neither did Booth, who projected the then 5-foot-2½, 105-pound Won, who is now 5-6, 130, as strictly a junior varsity player.
“You could tell she had some skills and she was intriguing, but by no means did we think she was a sure-fire varsity player at that point,” he said. “It was born out of necessity.”
Won began the season playing on the JV team and dressing with the varsity, sometimes sneaking into a game once it had been decided.
“I was very nervous,” she said. “I remember my first game I dressed varsity, I was just sitting on the bench and my legs wouldn’t stop jumping up and down. I would talk to myself and try to calm my nerves. I’d just think that I loved basketball. I had to push through my nerves and just play.”
A few games into the season, after several other players didn’t pan out, Booth made the decision to go with junior Maddie Movsesian and Won at point guard. The Grizzlies finished an uncharacteristic 13-12, but nearly beat Berea-Midpark in the district championship.
“We took our lumps in some games,” Booth said, “but we got better and were a point away from going to regionals.”
Last season, with Fortner healthy and ready for her senior year, Won served as a role player off the bench as the Grizzlies went 24-4 and advanced to the state semifinals.
“She would challenge me to get better, and I’d try my best to challenge her as well,” Won said of Fortner. “She was very encouraging. She might steal the ball from me, but afterward she’d tell me how I could avoid that and how to get better.”
Present and future life
With Fortner in college, Won is now Wadsworth’s full-time starting point guard as a junior. Her averages of 5.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 steals aren’t overwhelming, but her leadership is a large reason why the Grizzlies are 12-2 overall and 8-0 in the Suburban League National Conference.
For that reason, Won is averaging a team-high 28 minutes a game.
“That shows how vital she has become to this group,” Booth said. “When you put the time in and become better over that time, the side benefit is your confidence goes up along with the skill level. Her confidence is at a level where she knows she can compete with some of the best point guards in the state.”
Won’s strength right now is getting to the rim and finishing or finding an open teammate, but she also owns a great pull-up jumper that reminds Booth of former point guard Rachel Goddard, The Gazette’s MVP in 2012 and 2013.
Since Won is already a solid athlete and very good defender who understands basketball in its totality, Booth is of the opinion she can earn athletic scholarship money to play at the D-II college level with continued work and improvement.
Remarkably mature and thoughtful — she concluded an interview by saying, “Don’t hesitate to ask me any questions (if more information is needed)” and frequently started sentences with “Though I was just 8 years old …” or “Though I was just a freshman …” — that college athletic scholarship would mean the world to Won, who already has seen more of it than most.
“Doing that would be a really big accomplishment for me,” she said of playing college basketball. “Going to high school and not knowing anybody, going to a whole new place in Alaska, I’m not going to say it was easy, but I was able to overcome it.
“That’s the reason I am the way I am today. I know it sounds like a clich￩, but my struggles, going through all the things I’ve gone through, have helped me improve not only in basketball, those experiences have made me better as a person as well.”
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