40-year celebration makes Utes “proud of their tradition”

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Last weekend, the Utah women’s basketball team celebrated its 40-year anniversary when it played Arizona on Friday and Arizona State on Sunday, with more than 100 former players and alumni in attendance for those games.

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(Erin Burns/The Daily Utah Chronicle)

Kim Gaucher set this whole event into motion. Gaucher (née Smith) is currently Utah’s Director of Community Relations and played for the Utes from 2002-2006. She was also the first female athlete at Utah to have her jersey number retired.

Gaucher said this event took a lot of energy to complete, but it was all worth it because this was the best turnout they have had. She recalled an instance that displays how close members are within the program.

Gaucher played on the Canadian national team that qualified for the London Olympics in 2012. After calling her own family, Gaucher decided she would call Elaine Elliott — who coached the Utes for 27 years and was Gaucher’s coach throughout her career at the U — to invite her to London and watch the Games.

“All of our teammates thought we were crazy, and most of them have zero contact with their coaches and rarely feel the need to go back,” Gaucher said. “We had over 70 percent of our former athletes want to come back, and I think that has a big thing to do with the history in this program, the success we’ve had and the type of people that are here, from the coaches to assistants to staff members. People really cherished their experiences here.”

Morgan Warburton-Nelson is currently on the women’s coaching staff and played for the Utes from 2005-2009. She said the turnout was beneficial for the current players.

“I think it opened their eyes a little bit, just to see what came before them,” Nelson said. “To sit back and hear their stories and see what kind of people they have become, I think that’s huge for them. And I really think they soaked it up, and not that they weren’t before, but it made them more proud of their tradition.”

Nelson mentions how being on the team meant a lot to her throughout her career at the U.

“It was by far the best basketball experience I have ever had in my entire life,” Nelson said. “You just don’t get much better than playing for your school and the pride of it. I went on to play professionally, and it didn’t even come close to camaraderie I had with my teammates just working hard to obtain the same goal together. It just was an all-around perfect experience.”

Nelson sees one thing that has been consistent with most of the teams, and current head coach Anthony Levrets is trying to instill this in his current players.

“The work ethic is big,” Nelson said. “Anthony is striving for them to grasp the concept of what it takes every day to become a champion and I think that’s what he’s hopeful for in maintaining the tradition that was before him.”

Nelson also noted since there have only been three coaches throughout these 40 years, they have been able to pass down traditions. She also said since all three are friends, they have been able to continue what was started from the very beginning, and there has always been a sense of consistency.

Gaucher credits all of her previous coaches to helping her every step of the way.

“I wouldn’t be the player that I was or the person I am today without … my previous head coach, Elaine Elliot, and all the assistants that were with her,” Gaucher said. “And the values and lessons I learned here and not only at the university, but being a member of the basketball team. I am so thankful and blessed to have had that opportunity to help me grow so much.”

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@kbrenneisen