Seven years ago, just prior to the 2006-2007 season, Krista Gerlich took the reigns as head women’s basketball coach at WTAMU, replacing the retiring Hall of Famer Bob Schneider and inheriting a team that went an impressive 28-4 the year prior. Gerlich spent the previous three years as an assistant to another Hall of Famer, Marsha Sharp, at Texas Tech.
“I remember just being excited,” Gerlich said, “because it was my first head coaching job at the collegiate level. Just excited about putting my own spin on some things in our program, but I would say the thing that excited me the most was the kids that were here; clearly there were some great players here when I got here.”
The Lady Buffs didn’t miss a beat, going 28-5 overall and a perfect 14-0 in Lone Star Conference play in Gerlich’s first season, earning her Coach of the Year honors in the LSC South Division.
Four consecutive LSC South Division titles from 2007-10, three consecutive LSC championships from 2008-10, one Elite Eight appearance in 2009 and 168 wins later, Gerlich is moving on to NCAA Division I, agreeing to become head women’s basketball coach for the Mavericks of UT Arlington in early April.
“I’ve already used that first senior class [at WT] as an example at UTA,” Gerlich said. “Those seniors had a coaching change late and had just come off a conference championship, and they just immediately bought in. That particular senior class, some of them are my closest friends now.”
Gerlich leaves behind a team that was battle tested this past season, as they stumbled out of the gates early and lost seven of their first nine games before things finally came together. On December 8 the Lady Buffs crushed Cameron, 70-45, and proceeded to go 16-4 in their final 20 games of the regular season and entered the LSC tournament as a force to be reckoned with.
After an emphatic 61-36 victory over Angelo State in the first round of the LSC tournament, and the night before WT would face off against Texas A&M-Commerce, Gerlich went to the hospital and underwent emergency surgery to remove her appendix. At noon the next day, less than 16 hours after surgery, she was on the bench coaching her team.
“Everyone was saying, ‘We can’t believe you made it back,’” Gerlich said. “People just don’t understand what all we had been through [as a team], what I had made those kids fight through to get to that point. We constantly were talking about the good that we were doing – and we’re pretty spiritual and I talk a lot about my faith with them – and we just kept talking about how when you are doing good things for the right reasons, Satan attacks you, and attacks you in different ways.
“We just kept talking about how that was an attack on us because we’re doing great things, and when I told the girls [the appendectomy] was another attack on us, they were like, ‘Nope, not gonna work. We’re going to be fine.’ So I had to be there. I had to show them that, ‘I’m asking you to do this, so I’m going to do it with you.’”
The Lady Buffs would defeat Texas A&M-Commerce that day, 87-76, and move on to the LSC Championship game against Midwestern State.
On one of her last days at WT, Gerlich sat on the couches in the locker room at First United Bank Center and recollected the many moments she would take with her and the many people that made an impact in her seven-year tenure as head coach of the Lady Buffs.
She knew she couldn’t name everyone that had an impact or all of the moments that she would take with her, but she tried. From Michael McBroom, to Vinay Patel, to Courtney Lee, to the helpless feeling she felt while watching Emily Brister writhe in pain in 2009, to the Elite Eight appearance that same year, to the simple joy the game brings.
Then she paused, turned to her right, and pointed to a picture on the wall of the locker room. “That picture, that picture right there. It’s one of my favorite pictures ever.”
The picture was of the Lady Buffs’ bench during the 2013 LSC Championship against Midwestern State, in what would be the final game Gerlich would ever coach for WT.
“For us to turn that season around, and play the type of game we played in that last game,” Gerlich said, “it was phenomenal to be a part of, to see those kids buying in and giving their whole heart and effort. There’s four kids in that picture that never played in that ballgame, and they’re invested, you can see the emotion.”
As Gerlich moves on to UTA, she does so in hopes that no feelings of animosity are prevalent.
“My opporunity at WT came at a very critical time at my life, and I’ve always said that it was a Godsend,” Gerlich said. “That, I will forever be grateful for – just the opportunity to be involved in a community and a program and university that was so welcoming to me and my family.
“To the players that played for me, and the effort they gave and the tears, the sweat, the blood, the heartache, all of that is enabling me to take the next step in my career. As hard as that may be to understand and to accept, I am eternally grateful. Everybody that has worked with me has created this opportunity. WT will always be a very special place to me. This will always be my home.”