UTA women’s basketball coach to bring winning culture back to alma mater

Head coach Krista Gerlich directs players during the Sun Belt Conference Women's Basketball semifinals game against the University of South Alabama on March 15 at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana. Gerlich was named Sun Belt Coach of the Year after leading UTA to its first conference championship in 10 years.

Athletic director Jim Baker knew what Krista Gerlich was capable of when he selected her to lead the UTA women’s basketball program in 2013.

Gerlich’s winning background as a player at Texas Tech University and as a coach at West Texas A&M University made her an easy choice for Baker.

“I just knew that she was going to do a great job for us,” Baker said. “When you meet people, you can just tell that they have ‘it,’ and she has it.”

From 1972 to 2013, the Lady Mavericks compiled a record of 577-608, surpassing the 20-win mark five times. While Gerlich was leading West Texas A&M to multiple NCAA tournament appearances from 2006 to 2013, UTA went 102-110.

A change was needed in the program, and Gerlich’s winning culture fit the bill. Now, the Spearman, Texas, native is facing a similar situation, but this time it’s at the school she led to a national championship in 1993.

Last Tuesday, Gerlich was announced as the new women’s basketball head coach at Texas Tech. She was a shooting guard for the Lady Raiders from 1989 to 1993, helping the program pick up an 84-82 victory over Ohio State University in the 1993 NCAA national championship game. Her No. 21 jersey currently hangs in the rafters of United Supermarkets Arena where the Texas Tech men’s and women’s basketball teams host their games.

The job became available after former head coach Marlene Stollings was fired after a USA Today investigative report published, detailing a toxic culture of “fear, anxiety and depression” in the women’s basketball program.

During her introductory press conference last Wednesday, Gerlich said she felt like she needed to be there. She had similar feelings when she started at West Texas A&M and UTA.

“I was supposed to be at West Texas A&M for those girls, and then there was a time that I was supposed to be at UTA for those girls,” Gerlich said. “Now I think there’s a time that I’m supposed to be at Texas Tech for these girls.”

When Gerlich’s first year at UTA came to a close, her team collected four wins. The program’s rebuild got a boost after the season ended when Gerlich successfully recruited Rebekah VanDijk and Cierra Johnson. VanDijk ultimately finished third on the program’s all-time scoring list with 1,676 points scored, while Johnson closed out her UTA career as the all-time leader in steals with 318.

The player-coach combo played a pivotal role in changing the culture around the Lady Mavericks in the following six years. From 2014 to 2020, UTA posted a 117-69 record.

VanDijk, who was originally being recruited to West Texas A&M by Gerlich and her staff, said everyone bought into the head coach’s vision after her inaugural four-win campaign.

“Not a lot of people get to go from the very bottom to having a target on your back by the time you’re a senior,” VanDijk said. “It’s pretty cool to see how a coach can do that when everyone buys into a coach’s philosophy, like how you can turn a program completely around, and I was glad to be a part of it.”

The Lady Mavericks went on to win a Sun Belt Conference regular season title and their first-ever postseason tournament victory at the end of the 2018-19 campaign. Before Gerlich accepted her new position at Texas Tech, she was the coach with the most wins all-time in UTA women’s basketball history.

Former associate head coach Talby Justus got to experience the program’s rebuild under Gerlich from start to finish. He was part of her staff when she first arrived in Arlington in 2013 up until 2020 when he left to become the varsity boys’ basketball head coach at Pawhuska High School in Oklahoma.

Justus said Gerlich and the rest of the coaching staff poured themselves into UTA to bring the program up to prominence. He believes Gerlich has what it takes to do the same at her alma mater.

“I know she will be extremely excited to go there and get to work and try to take that program back to where it was when she played there,” Justus said. “I definitely think that they hired the right person for that university because of her history there and how well known she is in that part of the world.”

At her introductory press conference, Gerlich said she held her last meeting with the current Lady Mavericks the night before on a Zoom call. The head coach became emotional when she described how she cried and received well-wishes from members of the team.

Team leaders like junior guard Claire Chastain and senior forward Bre Wickware have already started to rally their teammates who may have been caught off guard by their head coach’s departure.

“We let them know that we know this is a difficult time for them, and if they ever needed to talk, we’re always here,” Chastain said. “I can’t imagine going through this as a freshman. We just let them know whatever they need, we’re here for them no matter what.”

The culture Gerlich cultivated will make the head coaching job at UTA an attractive position to potential candidates, according to Baker. He said he hopes to have the position filled by September, possibly by Labor Day.

When Gerlich spoke of UTA during her introduction in Lubbock, she thanked multiple members of the community who helped her along the way. She thanked people from former university Presidents James Spaniolo and Vistasp Karbhari, to current interim President Teik Lim. She also mentioned the close-knit relationship her program formed with men’s basketball head coach Chris Ogden and his team.

“What a special, special place,” she said.

@c_amaya7

sports-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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