Celeste Quitiquit: She has just begun

Meet an extraordinary Lady Zag, a young woman who has been through it all and counts her blessings. Celeste Quitiquit is a classic Gonzaga student-athlete, talented, bright and team-oriented with her eyes on the prize: a brilliant future.

When I first met Celeste Quitiquit it was obvious that she was something special. She reminded me of a shorter Jackie Stiles, very athletic, a tomboy who enjoyed playing basketball. After watching her for awhile I knew I'd have to interview this young woman. Little did I know just how incredible Celeste really is. She is truly a student-athlete that every Gonzaga fan and alum can be proud of and she'll be a great ambassador of GU all of her life. Zags Hoops caught up with this "woman on the go" and here is her story.

ZH: Where were you born and raised, and what nationality is "Quitiquit?"

CQ: I was born in Seattle and raised there in the White Center area. My parents still live in the same house I lived in since I was three. All of my life, people have had fun with my last name, everything from calling me Kitty to making jokes about quitting to complimenting the family by saying "There is no Quit in Quitiquit." One of the funniest comments I thought came from someone who thought I was Native-American. He asked, "Where does Quitiquit come from? Is it Native-American for Run-I-Run?" The story behind this was that this guy knew both my brother and me and my brother is REALLY fast and I tend to run around like a chicken with its head cut off. Quitiquit is Filipino and is pronounced "Kit-i-kit". A lot of people guess that it is Native-American or French. My dad is 1/2 Filipino and I am a mutt of nationalities (Filipino, Spanish, French-Canadian, Irish, Polish, Slavic, Ukrainian, etc.)

ZH: When did you first pick up a basketball and when and where did you start playing organized ball?

CQ: I think I first picked up a basketball when I was in about 4th grade. It was the same time I started playing CYO basketball which consisted of running up and down the floor and shooting lay-ups. I played CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) for St. Bernadette until 8th grade and played in some tournaments with Mirage (an AAU team in Seattle) my 8th and 9th grade years. The best practices growing up were in the 8th grade when we practiced Tuesday nights with my brother's team (7th graders). Our teams would battle so much which made it really competitive. Black eyes and bruises were given. Those poor boys, they didn't know we could be so tough. My brother and I had a homemade lowered hoop (about 6 feet high) in the backyard and we would play "NBA" with our neighbor EVERY DAY!! Our neighbor made us love the game! My brother and I played on the Lakers and my neighbor (who was older) would be the other teams. We had drafts and trades and post-game interviews. Since the rim was low, we had dunk contests and an All-Star game. Then we raised the rim to regulation (give or take a few inches) and kept playing. My brother and I would go at it, but I don't remember us finishing many games because one of us would always get REALLY mad at the other and throw the ball at the other or we'd start to fight. The fights were only on the court though, and we'd be back to playing again like 10 minutes later.

ZH: You were also a great volleyball and track athlete. Was basketball your first sport, or were all three about equal?

CQ: I would have to say that track was my best sport, but by far my least favorite. I always felt like track was more of an individual sport and there wasn't enough of a team feeling for me. I didn't really enjoy winning because I couldn't share the excitement with someone. The relays were fun, but the sport was just too nerve-racking for me. Between basketball and volleyball, my passion really depended on the season. When I was playing one, I never thought about the other and loved them both! Many people would probably tell you that in high school, I was better at volleyball because I played it more (played club volleyball for 5 years) but I was always just happy to be playing whatever I could.

ZH: Have you ever played beach volleyball like what we see on ESPN? Is it fun?

CQ: In the summer, I played doubles at the park at least once a week on the grass. That was the BEST!! You get to cover a lot of ground, play in your bare feet, and get grass stains! One summer my best friend and I played literally EVERYDAY! We would partner up against our guy friends and bet them for slurpees (they still owe us some). Beach volleyball is VERY TIRING. It is very difficult to move and jump in the sand so it's a little harder for little people like me to jump up and hit the ball. However, diving in the sand is lots of fun! I give lots of credit to those that play in the sand – WHEW - it is tiring!

ZH: Who were your sports idols while growing up?

CQ: Growing up, I didn't watch many sports on television. In the summers, my mom would literally lock us out of the house so we would play outside. For a very unoriginal answer, I would have to say Michael Jordan. Everything he did amazed me and I was convinced he had some secret to life and some superpower that he just hid from the rest of the world.

ZH: What about the biggest influences in your life, your real life heroes?

CQ: I would have to say that one of the biggest influences in my life has been my younger brother, Greg Jr. He taught me how to compete by playing against me and making me work for everything. He taught me about teamwork by teaming up with me to beat the "Kookamungas" (or imaginary opponents). Constantly, he would quiz me with sports trivia so I could "get in good with the guys." He always made sure I knew where he was sitting during games and races so I could look up to him for advice and support when I was having a bad game or was nervous. He kicked me in the butt and criticized me when everyone else congratulated and sugar-coated things and sat on my bed when I was upset after games and consoled me when I refused to talk to anyone else. He constantly tried to hammer in me the life lesson that "The only one who can limit me is myself." He knows what is right and is never afraid to stand up for his beliefs. He knows what to say and how to say it. There is no opinion I take more to heart than his. He a big reason I am who I am. His confidence and faith in me have helped me achieve. It is kind of ironic. Even though I am older, all these years he has been my big brother, my role model, my teacher. He has kept me dreaming and believing and has motivated and inspired me. My other real life heroes are those kids who have battled disease or injury and have fought them through sheer human will and determination. I see heroes every time I volunteer at the hospital. My heroes are also those who selflessly dedicate time, energy and resources to others.

ZH: So you were a three sport star at Kennedy High School. Why did you choose basketball over volleyball and track?

CQ: As far as recruiting stuff went, I was oblivious to how the whole process worked. I got letters from schools and if they were from track, I would throw them out without even opening them. Volleyball and basketball were different because the majority of recruiting is done through Club. College scouts spend summers at AAU tournaments for basketball and I didn't play AAU. The Club team I played for didn't go to a lot of big tourneys in order to keep participation fees manageable for a lot of girls and some tourneys I had to miss for high school sports. To make a long story short, I was not very aggressive in the whole recruiting process. After volleyball season, I had received letters from some D2 and D3 schools, but not too many people were looking to recruit a 5'5" girl. Basketball opened a few more doors because of our high school team's success in making it to the state tourney the three years I was on Varsity. My soph year, we placed 2nd and so we got recognition that way. It worked out that Sunny Smallwood, an assistant at UW, had been talking to me about college and what I wanted to do. She wanted me to come down and look at the school and join the team as an "invited walk-on". She was supportive in my decision not to attend UW and promised to tell other coaches about me because above all she "wanted to see Washington athletes succeed." She told Gonzaga and a few other schools about me. I went about applying for college like any normal student. Every weekend from the beginning of senior year until Christmas, I was either filling out an application, writing an application essay, or working on various scholarship applications to earn a way to college. I really just left the recruiting thing to God and figured if I was meant to play something would work out, if not I would have to just pick a school and then decide if I wanted to play. I applied to 7 schools (not based on sports) - Gonzaga, UW, SPU, Portland, St Mary's, LMU, and Regis (in Colorado). I wanted to stay in the West. After basketball Gonzaga started talking to me and I went on a visit. The girls were very nice and my parents were very excited about it being a Jesuit University (they both went to Jesuit colleges, dad went to LMU and mom went to Mount St. Marys) I didn't think much about it - I loved playing sports and so since basketball offered, I accepted. It was as simple as that.

ZH: What schools recruited you and why did you choose Gonzaga?

CQ: For basketball, GU was the most persistent. I had a few other schools talking to me like UW, St. Mary's, USF, SPU and BSU. I chose Gonzaga because it was close enough (but also far enough from home), it was Jesuit and had a great academic reputation, and when I came to visit I liked the team and thought the people on campus I met were very friendly.

ZH: Can you tell us what your freshman year at GU was like and your knee?

CQ: I was pretty overwhelmed my freshmen year. I remember calling home all the time close to tears because I was so homesick. I was not accustomed to having such a workload because it was the first time I had to take two sciences classes at the same time. Looking back that is kind of funny because to be a bio major, you pretty much have to take at least two science classes every semester. Then, after I hurt my knee, things got even harder for me. In high school, I think I identified myself a lot with being an athlete and being active. Coming into college it is really hard to figure out who you are. When I lost the ability to play sports and be active, I didn't know how to relate to people and kind of detached myself. Luckily, I had a great roommate who would always do things to cheer me up and realized that the friends I was making in college were people who knew me as a person and not as an athlete, and that was better. Honestly, my freshmen year was extremely tough and I wouldn't want to relive that year but staying busy helped.

ZH: Then two years ago, as a redshirt freshman, you tore the ACL in your other knee. That had to be doubly tough to take.

CQ: Before I got hurt the second time I was watching a soccer game with a friend and one of the girls on the field had torn the same ACL twice. I remember thinking, "If that ever happened to me, I would give up all physical activity." But when it happened a second time I actually took it much better. Maybe I was in denial, I am not sure, but by this time I realized there wasn't much that I could do but get through it. My teammates, the trainers, the other athletes, my friends at school, and my family were terrific and very supportive. There were times when I would be so frustrated I would just cry and wanted to give up. Just then a teammate would come into the training room to check on me and say, "Keep working hard because we miss you out there on the court," or a family member would call to tell me they were proud of me for sticking with it. Without the great people in my life, I would not have made it. Praying to God also helped out so much. I really believe it is true that "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." - Phil 4:13.

ZH: You seem to be an incredibly positive person with a great attitude. What good has come from these injuries and what have they [the injuries] taught you?

CQ: I have learned different things from each injury. The first injury I believe was a wake-up call from God. I had been going nonstop for a long time and this was God's way of saying I needed to slow down a bit and reprioritize my life. I was not mentally ready for D1 basketball my freshmen year and so that first injury was to help me prepare myself and get stronger. I was not a very patient person and both injuries really forced that virtue on me. Being injured really puts life into perspective and forced me to realize that there are many things in life we do not have control over and things don't always work out the way we plan. The important thing is not that our life sticks to the agenda we have set, but that when plans get changed, we still get things accomplished. I once heard someone sum things up well when he said, "If you want to see God laugh, tell him your plans." And I believe that is true. A true test in life is how we react to what we get dealt. I believe God will not give me anything I cannot handle and that every challenge is an opportunity to grow and maybe inspire others. I take less for granted these days and worry less. Through the struggles of long, tedious rehab, I learned to appreciate the little things in life. My philosophy now is to take all the bad things in life that seem big and make them little, and the littlest good things that happen, make them huge! Through my experience, I have been able to help others who got injured after me through their hard times.

ZH: As a Lady Zag, what are your strengths and weaknesses on the court and what have you worked hardest on during the summer?

CQ: I like to look for my teammates on the court, which can be a strength as well as a weakness (a weakness when opponents know you will pass and not shoot). I like to push the ball on offense, but need to become more of an offensive threat. Jess [Malone] and I worked out together everyday this summer working to get stronger - for me especially, I wanted to work on strengthening my legs after two knee surgeries. We worked a lot on agility as well to gain back some quickness. I really worked on quickness drills and shooting.

ZH: What is your favorite way to score? Are you a "pass first" type of point guard?

CQ: I am definitely a "pass first" point guard - too much at times, as many critique. But when I do score, the best is off of a steal and we are running the other team and score on a fast break, or when one of my teammates works really hard and drives to the basket and instead of taking it herself, kicks it out to me in the corner for the three. That is such a great feeling because it really makes me feel like my teammates have confidence in me and brings out the best of teamwork; a teammate is working hard to create something and instead of taking it for herself, she passes it out and wants me to take the credit. That is unselfish team ball.

ZH: When we first met you were shagging balls for Kyle Bankhead, then Jessica Malone needed your help in the weight room. Can you describe the family atmosphere of Zags helping Zags at Gonzaga?

CQ: I don't know if I can describe the family atmosphere at GU in words. It is an automatic feeling as soon as you walk into the Martin Centre. In the training room, you'll always find athletes making a glass of PowerAid for someone who is getting treatment; in the weight room I can always get a spotter without asking, and grab someone to shoot around with in the gym. It is almost like we are all one huge team and want more than anything else to see each other succeed. I have had Zach Gourde hit me with a pad to work on finishing the shot in traffic and done pool workouts with guys on the team when they were injured. Barry Matthews, who played baseball for GU last year and is now playing for the Detroit Tigers, used to do dips with me in the weight room because I would do more if he did them with me. I've peppered with girls on the volleyball team and done ab workouts with guys on the soccer team. We all just want to help each other be the best we can be because it only makes GU look better. That family extends to the games as well. Members of the baseball team can be found at every women's home game and all the athletes go and support the other teams.

ZH: Last season was tough, not winning a WCC game. In what ways has that made you a better person and player? Are you more determined than ever?

CQ: Losing is a very humbling experience; it also hurts and makes you want to work harder. I think it can be a good test of character because so many times I am going to get knocked down and what becomes of my life is really going to depend on how many times I am willing to get back up. The determination that came out of last season has extended to other areas of life including school. I hate the feeling that comes with losing and do not want to experience that as little as possible this year.

ZH: From all accounts, we hear that the Lady Zags will be turning the program around and heading towards the top of the WCC beginning this season. Is there any doubt about this?

CQ: To joke about it, our team always comments, "Well the only way for us to go after last year is up, isn't it?" More seriously, I do not doubt at all the turnaround this program will have. I think we have a strong leader who leads in scoring, work ethic, and attitude in Jessica Malone. Along with her, upperclassmen give nothing but a great example for newcomers to follow: Triana puts in overtime in the gym EVERY day whether shooting around or playing one-on-on with Coach T (Toriano Townes); Bernice is the biggest hustler in D1 basketball when it comes to being scrappy and aggressive on defense and shows incredible hustling attitude. Rikki redshirted last year but practiced every day and is an incredibly smart athlete on the floor; Anne played hurt all last year and is coming back from surgery. She is limited in court time with us, but when she is in she dominates; Mel has been working hard to come back from her knee surgery and the girls see her persistence. The new girls can look to all of these girls to see strong qualities of hard work and dedication. Plus we all get along! We expect from the new girls to have the same dedication, bust their butts, and have selfless attitudes - and we have no doubts that they will give nothing less, but instead a whole lot more!

ZH: Does this turnaround emanate from the top with new head coach Kelly Graves, new assistant Jennifer Mountain and the other coaches in your opinion?

CQ: Coach Graves is definitely a coach that could turn any program around. Everywhere he has gone he has been successful and produced very successful teams. He knows what it takes in coaching on the court and recruiting off the court to bring out the best players. All the players are VERY excited about Coach Mountain. She ran with us sometimes during the preseason and is always on the sidelines to give high-fives as well as a little ear chewing. All of us players have nothing but confidence in, and respect for, our coaching staff.

ZH: What are practices like this year compared to last year? I hear there is already a noticeable difference.

CQ: One huge difference is the number of girls we have this year. We have 13 on the floor instead of 6 and that makes a HUGE difference. We can go longer and with more energy. The great part is that it raises the level of intensity through competition. Everyone brings their own unique personalities but we all blend well together. Practices are intense, competitive, and fun with this group of girls.

ZH: What are your personal goals, Celeste? Academically and on the court.

CQ: Personally, my biggest goal is to be a leader for the younger girls on the team both on and off the court. I hope to finish my career in the classroom on the President's List and graduate with honors. On the court, I want to push my teammates and leave each practice and game feeling like I did everything I could do put out my best effort.

ZH: What is your major, your GPA and the careers that you see yourself in five, ten years down the road?

CQ: I am a double-major in biology and psychology. Right now, I think my cumulative GPA is a 3.82 but we will see after this semester; 5 years from now, in my IDEAL world, I see myself starting my final year of medical school after taking the year after ungrad off to volunteer internationally. 10 years from now, in my UTOPIA, it would be nice to be a doctor finishing up my residency and married, starting a family. I have always dreamed of having an office in my basement so I was close to home (like Dr. Huxtable on the "Cosby Show") and then opening a free clinic (like on the TV show "Empty Nest"). Most importantly, I want to be married some day with a family, working in medicine to help children somehow. I want to be comfortable and in close contact with family and friends, living happily.

ZH: Any regrets? Are you happy with your choice of Gonzaga? What has GU given you and what will you take into life when you graduate?

CQ: I have no regrets because I think everything in life happens for a reason. I am very happy with my choice of Gonzaga because there are so many incredible people on this campus that have touched my life. The values of teamwork, dedication, perseverance, loyalty, and family that have come with basketball I could not replace. GU has given the best education I could ask for because everyday I grow in some area of life, whether academically, athletically, socially, or spiritually. GU has been a huge support system through hard times as well as a great friend through the triumphs. The professors here really do care about the students and take the time to help students learn how to approach thinking, but not what to think. GU has directed me to a vocation of service to others. The person I am today has greatly been shaped by the people and experiences I have had in the four years I have been in Spokane. GU has challenged me in all aspects of life and in the process strengthened me.

ZH: Thank you, Celeste. Is there anything I've missed that you'd like to comment on?

CQ: Gonzaga really is more than a Univeristy, it is a family. People genuinely care about each other and the community. I work hard on and off the court, not only for my family and my teammates, and myself, but out of respect for the name and legacy of the school.

Despite being just a junior on the court, Celeste Quitiquit will receive her diploma in May 2002 and will forego her final season of basketball eligibility to begin the next chapter in her life.

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