Goestenkors begins changing minds, culture of Women's Basketball
The last time anyone other than Jody Conradt blew the whistle to start fall practice for the Women’s Basketball team at The University of Texas, Gerald R. Ford was President.
Hillary Clinton was active in the Watergate hearings, the Dallas Cowboys were en route to claiming their second Super Bowl victory, and the United States looked forward to celebrating its Bicentennial.
It was the fall of 1975 and the Women’s Basketball team was known as the Lady Longhorns.
Conradt arrived in the fall of 1976.
A Hall of Fame career and 31 years later, the venerable Conradt relinquished the reins of the program she built into a nationally-prominent outfit that captured a National Championship along the way.
She blessed the hiring of the woman who plans to take the Longhorns back into national prominence -- Gail Goestenkors, a Waterford, Mich., native who led her Saginaw Valley State club to a NAIA Championship as a player and who made Duke a women’s power during her 15 years at the Durham, N.C., school.
“This is an incredible challenge for me,” said Goestenkors, whose Longhorns open their season Nov. 11 against Missouri State, following a pair of exhibition contests.
“I am extremely excited to get started,” she continued. “I am happy to start a new life chapter. I am honored and appreciate the great legacy Jody leaves not only at Texas, but also in all of women’s basketball.
“I have to tell you that at first I was a little leery to follow Jody. But she made me feel so much better. She was happy to pass the baton to me and I am happy to get it.”
So the work begins as Goestenkors -- Coach G -- seizes the opportunity to make UT women’s basketball a National Championship-contender year in and year out.
She looks to four returning starters, as well Erika Arriaran, the junior guard who suffered a season-ending torn ACL 16 games into the 2006-07 campaign. Arriaran is the leading scorer among those players back, averaging 10.5 points per game, with 26 three-pointers before her knee injury.
Goestenkors has All-Big 12 Defensive Team member Erneisha Bailey as the lone senior returning starter. Sophomores Carla Cortijo, Brittainey Raven and Earnesia Williams are the other starters from the 2006-07 team.
The coach also welcomes a trio of freshmen -- Kathleen and Kristen Nash, and Rachel Rentchler.
While last season’s leading scorer and rebounder Tiffany Jackson has moved on to the WNBA, Goestenkors can count on the returning players, who scored 69.6 percent of the UT points, grabbed 67.3 percent of the rebounds, 79.1 percent of the assists and made 68.8 percent of the steals last year.
The coach believes the returning players should be excited about the opportunity to really have a new role on this team. Goestenkors believes it is going to take some time for them to step out of their roles, to feel comfortable in a starring role and being the go-to player on the team.
“I spent most of the summer when I was in Austin with the team, meeting one-on-one with the players, trying to get to know them and to get to know what is important to them,” she said. “Relationships always are the most important thing to me with my team. I feel as though I am a better motivator when I know how each player is best motivated.”
And motivation is a key to getting the Longhorns back to the NCAA Tournament after failing to do so last year -- only the fourth time in UT history that the team did not qualify for NCAA or AIAW postseason play.
“All the players on this current team -- we have only one true senior -- not one of those players ever has played in the postseason,” Goestenkors began. “So it is about changing a mindset. We really need to change almost the culture now. You never want to go too many years without (making the NCAAs).
“The older kids teach the younger kids what it takes and what it is all about. These kids haven’t been there during their UT careers, so that’s the biggest challenge for me and for our coaching staff. We have to help them understand very quickly what it takes.”
The Longhorns' motto for this season: Walk, talk and act like a champion.
“That’s what I want them to be thinking about,” Goestenkors said. “That’s what this year is all about, helping them to learn what it takes for them to be champions.”
And with Goestenkors, the Longhorns women have the perfect teacher for such.