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Montañana Is Fluent and Fluid

By Christian Swezey
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page E08

Anna Montañana's bedroom growing up in Valencia, Spain, had all the typical trappings for a 14-year-old girl -- plus some Michael Jordan posters.

"The first time she left the house she went with the [Spanish 14-under team] and won the world championship in Puerto Rico," her mother, Theresa Gimeno Montañana, said in an e-mail from Spain. "That's when she said how the U.S. was the cradle of her sport, and she wanted to go. . . . Her idol was always Jordan. In her room, with all the things that go along with being a girl, were photos of number 23 all over."

Anna Montaqana, from Valencia, Spain, will lead the Colonials vs. Mississippi tonight in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)

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Never mind that no one in Montañana's family spoke English -- and she barely spoke it when she arrived at George Washington in the fall of 2000. Montañana has made good on her dream. She is a senior and three-year starter for George Washington (22-8), which will play Mississippi (19-10) in an NCAA tournament first-round game tonight in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Montañana, 24, is the only player in program history to have 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists. She is averaging 17.3 points and 7.1 rebounds this season.

She has played all five positions in the same game several times this season. Coach Joe McKeown said that Montañana's natural position is point guard, even though she is 6 feet 1. She is nimble partly because of ballet and judo lessons taken as a child.

"I just love her game," Richmond Coach Joanne Boyle said following her team's 72-53 loss to the Colonials in the Atlantic 10 tournament semifinals. "She always looks to pass first, she's always looking for her teammates. Her head is always up. And she has incredible vision."

That vision was part of the reason she went to GW. The Colonials found her partly through former standout Elisa Aguilar, also a native of Spain. But her adjustment wasn't easy at first.

"I don't know how I got through my classes that [first] semester," Montañana said. "It was hard because I am a really open person, and for a long time I couldn't speak or do anything."

Montañana taught herself English -- from speaking haltingly as a freshman to chiding her teammates and McKeown in practice last week.

"I love Anna, we have become nearly inseparable since I got here, but she can be pretty sarcastic," said starting forward Jessica Simmonds, a transfer from Providence. "And she's never, ever wrong. If she throws a pass and it's way ahead of someone, she says the person should have been there. And she's never committed a foul, either. The referees have always made the wrong call.

"But I think everyone respects her so much for what she's done. I mean, everyone knows she taught herself English. Her family is so close-knit, and she gave them up to come here. Her family is very affectionate, and I think some of that has rubbed off on us."

Her teammates certainly have reason to be affectionate toward her. She invited them to Spain to spend time with her last summer.

"I didn't want to hear those stories," McKeown said. "They just told me, 'Coach, Spain is a lot different than here.' That's all I needed to hear."

She also has played her best in big games. She made a 35-footer as time expired for the winning points against Xavier last year. As a sophomore, she made a running hook shot to beat Temple with two seconds left. She also had a tip-in at the buzzer to beat Temple as a freshman.

In a loss to Tennessee at Smith Center last season, Montañana threw a pass from near midcourt with such curve on it that Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt ducked on the sideline. Yet a Colonials player caught the pass near the basket and scored a layup.

"You can see on the film that Pat Summitt thinks it's going to hit her," McKeown said. "I call Anna all kinds of names. I call her Joe Montana. She scrunches up her face and says, 'Who's Joe Montana?' And I tell her, 'He's the only person who's a better passer than you.' "

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