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‘The right direction’: Weber State women’s basketball coach Velaida Harris signs new contract

By Brett Hein - | Apr 13, 2022

BROOKS NUANEZ, for the Big Sky Conference

In this March 11, 2019, photo, Weber State women's basketball coach Velaida Harris speaks to her team during a Big Sky Tournament first-round game against Eastern Washington in Boise, Idaho.

OGDEN — After a season of marked improvement and competitiveness, Weber State women’s basketball will remain under the charge of Velaida Harris.

Harris, who began at Weber State in 2018 as a first-time head coach, signed a new three-year contract that was fully finalized Monday.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity. I think Weber is a hidden gem,” Harris told the Standard-Examiner. “I’m just grateful I can continue to be part of this growing community … I think it’s a great place.”

The new contract’s framework runs through the 2024-25 season and includes performance incentives. It raises Harris’ base salary from $115,000 per year to $123,235. The Standard-Examiner obtained the new contract via an open records request. Her initial four-year contract expired March 31.

The impetus for a new contract: allowing Harris to continue to build into the 2022-23 season when the Wildcats return their starting frontcourt in Daryn Hickok, Jadyn Matthews and Emma Torbert for a third consecutive season together. They’ll stand as the team’s foundation after a big jump in wins and competitiveness in the 2021-22 campaign, including the program’s first conference tournament win since 2017.

The Wildcats went 4-5 in nonconference play, with all four wins over Division I opponents. Weber State then began conference play 3-1 in a start that was nearly 5-0 if not for two close losses in the final minute of each.

Close losses became a recurring phenomenon for the Wildcats. Weber State finished 6-14 in the league slate, with the team’s average margin of defeat rising from a rather uncompetitive 16.5 points per conference loss in 2020-21 to 7.9 points per loss this season. That included five losses of four points or less and two more losses in overtime.

The Wildcats then won a first-round game at the Big Sky tournament, defeating Sacramento State 74-64. Including that win, Weber State totaled as many Big Sky wins in the 2021-22 season (seven) as it compiled in the first three seasons of Harris’ tenure combined. WSU lost in the quarterfinals to eventual tournament champion Montana State.

“Weber State is playing so well right now. Velaida’s done such a great job with that program,” MSU head coach Tricia Binford said after that quarterfinal game. “They’re completely a different team than what we saw last year. They’re extremely talented and hard to guard.”

Harris said her experience understanding what it takes to run a program and having a core of players who have been in place for consecutive years will be what leads to more wins in the coming seasons.

“We do believe we’re moving in the right direction,” Harris said. “Is it as fast as I wanted? No. But is it happening? Yes, and I believe it will continue to move in this direction.”

WSU loses starting guards Kori Pentzer and Aloma Solovi to graduation. Second-year forward Mikayla Peterson, who appeared in 11 career games, is transferring out of the program, according to the WBB Blog.

Harris said, like most everyone, she’s looking for experienced transfers to add to her lineup that can help WSU make the next step. The right caliber of incomers could vault WSU to rare air for the program, which has posted a record of .500 or better in Big Sky play just twice in the last 15 seasons.

“That’s going to help us, trying to bring one or two players who have already played at the collegiate level and can contribute right away. That’s what we’re looking to do … we all want experience and all want to win, so we’re going to try and seek experience without sacrificing the integrity and culture of our program.”

Before becoming WSU’s head coach in 2018, Harris was an assistant coach at Rhode Island for one season and Utah for six seasons. She was also a director of operations for one year and assistant coach for one year at Oregon.

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