It’s a been a long journey, but the season has finally arrived for the Spalding University women’s basketball team and first-year coach Kylee Gorby.
With the start of its season pushed back more than two months and its schedule shortened to 11 games due to the coronavirus pandemic, Spalding’s long wait to take the court will end at 6 p.m. Tuesday against Campbellsville University-Harrodsburg at Columbia Gym.
“Our team is definitely ecstatic to be able to play,” Gorby said. “I think that when you have something taken away from you unexpectedly and for an extended period of time, you grow a greater appreciation for it. There’s always an excitement for gameday every year, but I think it’s even amplified this year with the current circumstances.”
Tuesday’s game brings some normalcy to a season that has been uncommon at every turn for the 26-year-old head coach.
A former Asbury University standout player and Georgetown College assistant coach, Gorby was hired in April to replace retired Spalding career wins leader Charlie Just. Because Spalding’s campus was closed from mid-March until August, Gorby was unable to visit her office or the gym or meet her players in person until the end of the summer.
She got to know them over FaceTime calls and watched film of last season to learn about their basketball talent. She also got busy recruiting to fill out what was a nine-player roster.
Gorby took joy in the campus reopening in August, her first chance in four months to meet her players in person and watch them participate in open gyms and workouts. It’s been a lot of workouts and practices since, with games having been pushed back until the new calendar year.
The Golden Eagles have been practicing since October, so the group – now 14 players strong after adding two transfers – is familiar with each other and has had lots of time to learn Gorby’s system and improve as individuals.
“It’s kind of crazy because I feel like I’ve had this job for a (pretty lengthy) minute, but I haven’t actually as an assistant or a head coach coached a basketball game in a full year,” she said. “I’m just really grateful. I had no idea if we would have a season this year, so I’m just grateful amid the circumstances. Then, beyond that, I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to be a head coach. That is not something that everyone can say they’ve been able to do.”
Gorby continued: “I’m fortunate to have walked into a program and a group of players who have made this transition really easy. Considering the circumstances and the adversity we’ve faced – along with the rest of the country – they have been nothing but impressive with their maturity level and ability to bring it every day and be resilient. I’m just excited to watch them do their thing and take joy in their success.”
Gorby said she has inherited several promising players off a team that was the 2020 SLIAC runner-up.
Junior center and All-SLIAC first-team pick Hunter Wright, who averaged 14.1 points and 8.5 rebounds last season, is one of the top returning players in the conference. The 6-foot Wright, who also made the SLIAC All-Defense team last year, “fundamentally changes the game when she’s on the court” with her shot-blocking and ability to stretch the floor on offense, Gorby said.
Additionally, Gorby said, she has given Wright the green light to take off and attack with the ball in transition after her defensive rebounds.
“Her versatility is limitless,” the coach said.
Other key juniors include guard Kailey Reed, who started 14 games last season; point guard Breanna Anthony, who started 11 of the 13 games she played in 2019-20 and is at full strength after injuries as an underclassman; and forward Amber Higdon.
Indiana University-Southeast transfer and Sacred Heart Academy alumna Natalie Fichter, who averaged 10.2 points last season for the Grenadiers, will be a key newcomer, and seniors Hannah Renfro and Kendyl Powell will provide leadership, Gorby said.
Spalding will have to overcome the absence of second-team All-SLIAC guard Maleah Hirn, who is recovering from a foot injury suffered last season.
Gorby said Just left the program in great shape and that she is eager to build on the winning tradition he established. Her goal is for Spalding to be the best NCAA Division III program in Kentucky, and she said the university’s presence in Louisville provides plenty of recruiting opportunities for the Golden Eagles to thrive.
They’ll get started against CU-Harrodsburg (1-6), which is a member of Division II of the National Christian College Athletic Association and the United States Collegiate Athletic Association.
CU-Harrodsburg will be Spalding’s only nonconference opponent.
The Golden Eagles will take another break before visiting Eureka on Feb. 20 to begin six weeks and 10 games of St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play. All eight SLIAC schools competing in women’s basketball this year will qualify for the conference tournament. Due to the many challenges of the season, all NCAA Division III athletes will be able to retain this year of eligibility.
Their wait to get going will be over in a matter of hours as the 2020-21 season – now well past 2020 and well into ’21 – finally begins.
“I’m excited to be out there and competing and watching our girls have fun,” Gorby said. “Reflecting back on my playing days, I would have hated to endure this current situation as an athlete. I’m excited as a coach to see them go out and be enthusiastic and compete and work and have fun with it.”