Women's Basketball

UTA women hoops begin post-VanDijk era; future is bright for Lady Mavericks

UT Arlington women’s basketball coach Krista Gerlich won a state title at Sudan and was a point guard on Texas Tech’s national-title team.
UT Arlington women’s basketball coach Krista Gerlich won a state title at Sudan and was a point guard on Texas Tech’s national-title team. Star-Telegram

For the first time in her six years as head coach at UTA, Krista Gerlich will be without one of the best players in program history.

Well, sort of.

Rebekah VanDijk, a four-time Sun Belt All-Conference selection, finished as one of the all-time greats for the Lady Mavericks. She’s the first player in program history with more than 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, finishing as the school’s all-time leading rebounder (1,117) and was third in scoring (1,676).

But VanDijk will remain close with the Lady Mavericks as a student coach. Gerlich has recruited well too.

“We’ve recruited well, tweaked our offense a little and we learned from Rebekah,” Gerlich said. “She laid the foundation for this program and has left a legacy that present and future players can now look to and uphold.”

Six freshmen are on this year’s roster as UTA has started 3-2 with wins over Jackson State (99-63), Grambling State (78-54) and most recently San Francisco 80-73 on Sunday.

The Lady Mavs lost by nine to Fresno State and took SEC Arkansas to the very end, falling 66-65.

Against San Francisco, Gerlich started three freshmen for the first time this season and all three finished in double figures. Claire Chastain (Shawnee, Okla.) was a perfect 6-for-6 from the field with a team-high 18 points while Terryn Milton (Owasso, Okla.) and Plano’s Katie Ferrell added 13 and 11. Ferrell also had nine rebounds, five assists and three steals.

“The freshmen are a huge part of what we are doing this year,” Gerlich said. “We expect them to be in the mix and contribute a large amount to our team. We are very excited about their talent level and work ethic.”

uta 2
Khampha Bouaphanh Star-Telegram

While VanDijk won’t be able to suit up anymore, UTA still has senior guard Cierra Johnson, who was standout high school player at LD Bell. Johnson was named conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2016-17, but went down with injury after three games last season.

“When Cierra is on the court, she’s always in for a big year,” Gerlich said of Johnson, who’s averaging 12.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and nearly 3.0 steals through five games. “She’s hungry to do well and grateful to be back. She’s doing really well and still has the same fiery competitive spirit.”

UTA went 18-12 last season and 12-6 in the Sun Belt.

The Lady Mavs and Texas State received the third-most preseason votes this season behind Little Rock and Troy.

“Preseason rankings don’t mean anything,” Gerlich said. “We have to go to work every day and improve our team. We need to develop our young players, continue to build great team chemistry and work hard to be better every time we step on the court.”

Against Jackson State, UTA scored the sixth-most in program history, most in a season opener. Chastain led with 16 points with three 3-pointers. UTA shot 59.9 percent from the field and scored 33 points in the third quarter. The 58 points in the second half were the most in a half in program history, besting the 54 points scored against Sam Houston State in 2002.

Brandon Wade Star-Telegram

“Our first game was a lot of fun and all of our kids saw action and contributed,” Gerlich said. “We are excited about this team and their performance, but have to go back to work and get ready for the next opponent.”

The Lady Mavs play at Incarnate Word Sunday, at Oral Roberts Dec. 6 and at Houston Dec. 17. They return home to College Park Center to host UTSA Dec. 20 and USC on Dec. 22.

“It’s going to be a fun year,” Gerlich said. “love this team.”

During Gerlich’s tenure, the Lady Mavs reached the SBC semifinals in 2016-17, a first since 2009, and earned the program’s third all-time bid into the Women’s NIT. The program had the third most wins in program history at 22 and finished with the second-best winning percentage. The Lady Mavs also picked up their first-ever votes in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll after a 5-0 start, the best since 1977.

Gerlich’s squad posted a winning record in every month of the season, something that had not done prior.

The Lady Mavericks went from just four wins in 2013-14 to a 17-win campaign in the 2014-2015 season, setting a record for largest single-season increase in the program’s history, and equaling the largest turnaround in NCAA Division I between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram