Taking Her Shot

Theresa Acosta is in the middle of the action as head athletic trainer for the WNBA's New York Liberty.
Written by: 
Jessica DeLeón
Theresa Acosta
Theresa Acosta ('99, '01 M.S.)

Even since she was in high school, Theresa Acosta ('99, '01 M.S.) wrote down a list of goals in a black-and-white composition notebook.

One of those goals was to work as a head athletic trainer for a WNBA team.

That dream became reality in 2019 when she was hired by the New York Liberty.

"I remember getting the call and finally being offered the position," she says. "I was so pumped."

Acosta is the only Latinx who holds that title in the WNBA. The job comes with great highs -- such as working with the best athletes in the field -- but also intense moments, especially as the team had to navigate precise protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I've worked hard for this, but I don't take it for granted," she says.

Wins and Losses

Acosta's dream took root when she needed the help of an athletic trainer. In high school, she sustained a minor injury while playing basketball and had to go through rehabilitation.  

"I was intrigued by all of that," she says. "This is something I can really get into."

She chose UNT for its outstanding kinesiology program. She learned most from Noreen Goggin, associate professor of kinesiology, health promotion and recreation, whom she still keeps in touch with and whom she admired for her belief in her students.

"She pushed me to continue on, dig a little deeper," Acosta says.

Acosta also loved the atmosphere of working sporting events, including Mean Green football games. At a game against U.S. Army at West Point, the stadium filled with cadets chanting "Go Mighty Army." The home crowd of the University of Alabama erupted into "Sweet Home Alabama."

"If we are talking about memorable moments, I still get nostalgic and think of my time at UNT when I hear 'Fly Like an Eagle' by the Steve Miller Band," she says. 

But she also deals with heartbreaking disappointments. After graduation, Acosta stayed on as an assistant athletic trainer for the Mean Green women's basketball team -- which just missed qualifying for the 2002 NCAA tournament.

"For me, while wins and losses are important, I try not to have that full attachment to it," she says. "I am there for the health and safety of the athletes."

Working with the Best
Theresa Acosta works with Sabrina Ionescu
Theresa Acosta works with Sabrina Ionescu, the New York Liberty's number one pick from 2020. Photo: Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Acosta kept her eye on her goal to work in the WNBA. In the early 2000s, she mailed her resume to all the teams asking for an internship. A year later, the head athletic trainer  from the Detroit Shock, Laura Ramus, offered her the position of equipment manager and assistant trainer -- and Acosta was there when the team won the 2003 championship.

She worked for colleges in Detroit, New York and Los Angeles before she landed the position with the New York Liberty.

"It is an intense job," she says. "I joke my gray hairs have quadrupled in the last three seasons."

Acosta is one of the first people to arrive before a game and one of the last to leave. The cameras are right on her when an athlete is injured. While the season itself runs from mid-April though October the intensity is non-stop, with travel from their home arena at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York to the other 11 markets in the WNBA.  

And she works in one of the world's largest media markets. Her former classmate, Brian Zettler ('98 M.S., '99 M.Ed.), former head athletic trainer for the Utah Jazz, told her, "Look who's in the hot seat now!"

Then came COVID-19. The WNBA players stayed in a bubble at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. She brought her fly-fishing gear and would go out fishing when she needed a moment to herself.

Now the team is back at the Barclays Center, and she appreciates that her organization has been on the forefront of social justice issues in the last few years.

And she doesn't take for granted that she obtained the job she has wanted for so long.

"Every day, it's like I get to be around the best in the world," she says. "It's awesome to be in that environment. For me, to be in this arena, watching these women basketball athletes on a daily basis and knowing that I can assist with that is truly amazing and I enjoy every bit of it."

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