By R.L. Bynum
It’s a big sign that a women’s basketball program is taking huge strides on the national stage when it beats out Connecticut for a recruit.
North Carolina has now done it twice in three years.
Five-star 6–4 stretch-five Ciera Toomey, the No. 3 Class of 2023 player, committed to the Tar Heels on Monday night, picking UNC over seven other schools, including UConn, in a press conference at the Riverfront Sports Complex in Scranton, Pa.
Other schools in the final eight she announced in October were Duke, Maryland, Northwestern, Penn State, Vanderbilt and Villanova.
“All the hours spent in the gym getting better have paid off. But this is just the beginning,” Toomey said in a video she posted on social media. “I’m thankful for all the programs that took the time to recruit me. This decision was far from easy. But I’m confident that I have found a school that will allow me to grow athletically and academically.”
Toomey is the second player Coach Courtney Banghart has lured to Chapel Hill who also was considering playing for legendary coach Geno Auriemma after five-star forward Teonni Key, ranked No. 9 in the Class of 2021, picked Carolina in June 2020. The former Cary High School star missed her entire freshman season with a torn ACL.
“I absolutely love the coaches. I love the program they have,” Toomey said in an interview with television station WNEP. “Visiting, you just you got a different sense for the school and I absolutely loved it and just couldn’t ignore it. And I knew I knew it was the place for me.
“They liked my versatility, just being 6-4, being able to shoot and take to the basket, along with posting up and everything,” she said. “They really see that as parts of my game that they can improve on and use what I already have to their advantage.”
Of the schools she considered, UNC and Duke were the farthest from her hometown.
“I really thought I was going to stay much closer,” Toomey told NEPA Sports Nation. “But, after being down there and going through the process of traveling there, it really wasn’t too bad. My family is really close, but I think I’m going to be able to form another family down there.”
She visited UNC in February and also visited UConn, Maryland, Villanova and Penn State.
“After each visit, all five, I’d get home and think, ‘oh, that’s where I’m going’,” Toomey told NEPA Sports Nation. “But after 24 hours, it was more like, ‘OK, I liked it there.’ With North Carolina, that feeling never really went away. That feeling kind of led me to start eliminating people.”
Toomey joins five-star 5–5 point guard Reniya Kelly of Hoover, Ala., in that class. The class’ No. 11 player in the country committed to UNC in November.
“I always wanted to be working on my game whenever I could,” she said. “My parents have always been so supportive and given me so many opportunities to take my game to the next level.”
Toomey, No. 3 in the class according to the HoopGurlz Recruiting rankings, was the MaxPreps Pennsylvania Player of the Year after scoring 18.5 points per game and shooting 67.2% as a junior while leading Dunmore High School to a 25–2 record. She had a 3.8-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and blocked 1.9 shots per game.
She put up those numbers despite only playing until halftime of some games or the middle of the third quarter in other games because her team was blowing out opponents by such a wide margin.
“Watching her progress through this game has been very special,” her dad, Patrick Toomey said in the social-media video.
It was when he reweeted a tweet late last week about possible big news for UNC women’s basketball that Tar Heels fans started to realize that she might pick UNC.
Toomey, who also plays on her school’s golf team and in junior golf tournaments, is a long, athletic big player who can play good defense and block shots.
Dunmore led Jim Thorpe High School in the Class 4A state quarterfinals by 14 points at halftime. Her team lost the game 40–39 after Toomey left with an injury, which is keeping her sidelined during the AAU season.
She will soon have surgery on the torn ACL in her right knee.
“Even before I hurt my knee, I knew that that was the place for me,” Toomey told WNEP. “So, the support they showed even after finding out the news, that just kind of gave me an even bigger feeling that they were the right place.”
Toomey led the NEPA Elite Clark 17U team to the Hoop Group Showcase League title last summer for a second consecutive year and was named MVP.
“When I was younger, she always had me at the point guard position,” Toomey said. “And even though I was always the tallest person on the court, I always was controlling the ball. I kind of had that footwork and fluidity thanks to her and thanks to playing that position for so long. And now that I am more of a four and five, I can use those skills to my advantage.”
She has uncommon shooting range for a tall player, able to be a threat from 3-point range.
“Especially at the next level, they look for people who are super versatile. So focusing on my shot and post moves are equally as important,” she said.
Victoria Toomey, her sister, is a 6–2 center who just finished her junior season at Rider.
“It’s been so cool to be able to watch Ciera grow up to not only a great person, but also a great basketball player,” Victoria Toomey said in the social-media video. “And I’m so, so proud of her and so excited to see what she’s able to accomplish at the next level.”
UNC’s Class of 2020 group, rising juniors Deja Kelly (No. 10 in the class), Anya Poole (No. 49) and Alexander Zelaya (No. 98), Kennedy Todd Williams and Alyssa Ustby, was ranked 11th in the country. The Class of 2021 with Key (No. 9 in the class), Kayla McPherson (No. 17), Morasha Wiggins (No. 18) and Destiny Adams (No. 20) was ranked second in the country behind only South Carolina.
The only incoming freshman next season for UNC will be 5–8 four-star point guard Pauline Paris from Saddle River, N.J., ranked No. 27 in the class.
Carolina already has a Class of 2025 commitment from guard Lanie Grant of James River High School in Virginia, rated the No. 1 recruit in Virginia by PrepGirlsHoops.com.
Top and bottom photos via @ciera.toomey on Instagram