The third annual Women’s Basketball Extravaganza was held on Sunday at The Villages Golf and Country Club in southeastern San Jose. With a brunch served for guests, the event honored the five outgoing seniors. Proceeds from this event, including from a silent auction and raffle drawing, raised funds for San Jose State women’s basketball scholarships.
Gayle Kludt, an elementary school teacher in San Jose, hosted this event. Kludt has raised funds for Spartan athletics for three decades and specifically for women’s basketball for the past seven years. She says that this event has raised nearly $25,000 in three years.
“We have $9,000 more to raise to endow the locker room,” added Kludt.
Kludt introduced head coach Jamie Craighead and the players before an audience of around 30 that included donors, faculty, and players’ families. Afterwards, the audience watched a video of highlights from the season.
San Jose State associate athletic director Marie Tuite then shared some humorous anecdotes.
“When I first came to San Jose State about five and a half years ago, I thought Gayle’s last name was ‘and Donna,’” remarked Tuite, in reference to Kludt’s seven-year partnership with the late Donna Rooney in fundraising for women’s basketball. Rooney passed away in June 2015 at the age of 76.
“Certainly, Donna is here today; we feel her presence,” added Tuite. “She went first class immediately to heaven.”
Tuite also praised Craighead: “She makes me a better administrator, because she wants to compete at the highest level….She wants this program to be first class, on the court and off the court.”
The results of the past two seasons show that Spartan women’s basketball is on the track to reaching that goal. In the 2014-15 season, the team advanced to the Mountain West semifinals after upsetting #1 seed Colorado State in the quarterfinal round. Additionally, eight of the fifteen players of that team earned All-Academic honors from the Mountain West Conference, and the team reached an all-time high Academic Progress Rate of 966. With the highest strength of schedule in the Mountain West, last year’s team went 11-7 in conference play with a fourth-place finish, both historically best finishes since San Jose State joined the Mountain West Conference.
Craighead then stepped up to the microphone, to pay tribute to her team’s five seniors. She began with Emily Schill, a redshirt junior center who missed large portions of the last three seasons due to injuries. Schill had a promising freshman season in 2012-13 with 10.8 points and 7.2 rebounds; that season included one game where she had 36 points and 18 rebounds. However, Schill took a medical redshirt the following season, then played only five games in the 2014-15 season and none in 2015-16.
“I don’t think it’s easy to come from as far away as she has—Australia—and to have your basketball career end so abruptly and not have your family around to support you,” said Craighead.
Set to graduate in May with her degree in early childhood development, Schill remained on scholarship by assisting the team at practices. Her duties included shooting video and operating the scoreboard.
Next, Craighead introduced Ellie Stevens and recalled how Stevens ran the Cooper test in under 11 minutes, the fastest time she had seen any player run that test. However, Stevens missed the 2014-15 season due to a back injury. A junior college transfer with no Division I experience, Stevens went on to become a team captain. She started 28 games at forward and averaged 5.1 points and 2.1 rebounds. She had only one year of eligibility left, as she attended Idaho State University for a year before transferring to a junior college.
“[Stevens] has to step into some shoes that are pretty tough to fill, and I thought she did a tremendous job,” said Craighead.
On forward Emily Vann, Craighead remembered her connections with Vann, because Craighead was head coach at Sacramento State when Vann played for rival UC Davis. Vann transferred to San Jose State in 2013, the same year Craighead was hired. Craighead described Vann as a “sharp shooter who could play the outside post.” Vann led the team in three-point shooting percentage (35.5%) and averaged 17.3 minutes off the bench with 4.4 points and 2.0 rebounds.
When Craighead discussed Vann’s good grades and intellect, Kludt shouted out: “That means she has a 4.0.” The audience applauded.
“I didn’t really know what I was going to expect coming here, but I gained so much,” added Vann. She also thanked the donors in attendance for helping her “the amazing life experience” she had with Spartan basketball and for their support of the team.
Next was guard Nyre Harris, who averaged 9.9 points and 5.1 rebounds and led the team in steals with 2.0 per game. Craighead remembered watching Harris play in high school in Stockton, Calif. but not recruiting her. Harris then transferred from Arizona to San Jose State midway through Craighead’s first season to be closer to family. In addition, Craighead praised Harris’s leadership and positive influence on the other players, as Harris “never got down on wins and losses” despite a challenging out-of-conference schedule.
“You know that she’s tired when she’s smiling on the court,” added Craighead.
Finally, there was center Riana Byrd, who leaves San Jose State as one of just two players to have had 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career. With 17.7 minutes off the bench per game, Byrd led the team in rebounds with 7.6 per game, in addition to 7.4 points. On Feb. 13, Byrd made her 1,000th career rebound and the buzzer-beating layup that gave San Jose State a 59-58 win over New Mexico.
“We’ve been on a ride, from a coach-player standpoint,” said Craighead, after explaining that Byrd was just one of five seniors on the team to have been with the team since freshman year.
“She’s a really smart individual who really understands the game of basketball.”
Byrd hinted at initial challenges adjusting to Craighead’s uptempo offense, after playing under Tim La Kose as a freshman: “She likes to run, and I am not a person who likes to run.”
Becoming emotional, Byrd paused her speech for around 10 seconds before regaining her composure and thanking her team.
A raffle drawing followed, then junior forward and team captain Jasmine Smith wrapped up the event singing Beyonce’s “Listen”, a song she said had a message for the team’s seniors who are “going out to their next chapter.”
“We only get one more year of that,” responded Craighead. “...we might have to pay for her to come back when it’s NCAA permissible.”