Weber State University’s Wildcats gave their fans a reason to rejoice as they came to an agreement with Velaida Harris, who will take over the reigns as the new WSU head coach. Coach Harris returns to the state of Utah as a coach for the first time since she worked with the University of Utah Utes from 2009-15. She previously was an assistant coach at Rhode Island for a season, her first east coast job.
Harris is from Portland, Oregon and has been married to her husband Jerry for 23 years. Together they have three children: Christaen, Gabrielle and Sierra. Velaida went to college at Portland State where she played four years of collegiate basketball.
With the Utes, Harris was originally the director of basketball operations before being promoted to assistant coach and earning the responsibility of recruiting coordinator. During her time with the Utes, she helped Utah earn a tournament bid in 2011 and spot in the WNIT championship game in 2013. Before Harris was a Ute, she was an University of Oregon Duck for two seasons where she was director of operations before becoming an assistant coach the next season.
Harris has coached bigtime talent, at Utah coached 11 all-conference selections and 26 academic all-conference performers. Overall, she has coached two WNBA players, two olympians and 16 players who took their talents overseas.
Despite how impressive her collegiate career has been so far, her career as a high school coach is uncomparable. As a coach at Lincoln Senior High School in Oregon, Coach Harris took the program to six state playoffs, three to the state championship tournament and won three league titles. Throughout these accomplishments, she piled up a 123-52 record and provided herself with a future in coaching.
Not only is this an important hire for Weber State, it is even more important for Harris. When she accepted the head coaching job at WSU, she became the first African-American woman to lead any D1 sports program in the history of the state of Utah.
Harris spoke on whether she feels pressure when it comes to being the first women of her race to lead a program, “I see it as an opportunity … it’s a big deal and it’s a great responsibility. I don’t see it as pressure — I see it as responsibility because there is a lot of kids out here that look like me and for them to see me in this role, I take great pride in that.” Harris then added with a smile, “Pressure is being a college head coach.”
For the Wildcat players, change can be good or bad, and senior guard Emily Drake, who shares a northwest background like her head coach, embraces the new opportunity.
“So far it has been really good. I’ve been really excited, and as a team, we’ve been doing a good job to adjust to the new environment,” said Drake. “It helps that our team is young too so they are able to easily adjust.”
Drake is in her final season with the Wildcats. Last season she started every game last season for the second year in a row and was third on the team in scoring. She scored at least 20 points in three games last season and set a career high against Idaho State with 32 points. In that game, she connected from long range often as she hit seven, three pointers.
While Harris decided to not try and bring in new players and keep all the ladies she already had on the team, Drake, who has always considered herself a leader, is kicking it up a notch to lead the Wildcats in her final season.
The ‘Cats have made changes, history and have started a new chapter. All of those have been accepted by the players and they are ready to step onto the floor for their first game.
The Weber State Wildcats first game of the season will be against Portland on Nov. 12 at the Dee Event Center.