Gross signs six-year extension to stay with Aggies

After leading UC Davis to back-to-back Big West Conference regular season crowns and two deep runs into the Women’s National Invitation Tournament bracket, head women’s basketball coach Jennifer Gross has signed a contract extension that will keep her on the sidelines through the 2023-24 season, it was announced on Tuesday by Director of Athletics Kevin Blue.

“We are thrilled that Jen will be leading our women’s basketball program well into the future,” Blue said. “She and her staff have built a program that is a first-class representation of our university. The team is competitively excellent, and the players are outstanding students who achieve highly at UC Davis before moving on to promising careers of impact and leadership in the professional world. We look forward to continue supporting Jen, her staff, and our student-athletes as we strive for even greater success for our women’s basketball program.”

The head coach of the Aggie program since 2010, Gross has guided her alma mater to a 131-91 (.590) overall record and a 69-42 (.662) mark in Big West play in seven seasons — including combining for a 53-15 (.779) overall record and a 28-4 mark in Big West Conference play over the last two years.

The two-time Big West Coach of the Year and one of 10 finalists for the 2018 United States Marine Corps/WBCA National Coach of the Year, Gross led UC Davis into the WNIT “Sweet 16” in 2017 and made a run into the “Elite Eight” in 2018 — the farthest any team in conference history has ever advanced in that tournament.

“I am extremely excited for the opportunity to continue leading this program with the great tradition of Aggie Pride that was instilled in me as a student-athlete at UC Davis,” Gross said. “I want to thank Chancellor Gary S. May and Kevin Blue for their tremendous leadership and the support they have provided to our basketball program.

“I am proud to work with such an outstanding and loyal coaching staff. We have been together for many years and we are all 100 percent committed to providing an extraordinary experience for our student-athletes here at UC Davis. I love our team and cannot wait to build on the successful foundation that our amazing student-athletes have established.”

Gross guided the Aggies to a storybook 2017-18 campaign that saw them post the second-highest single-season win total in school history at 28-7, while setting or tying 11 different single-season or single-game school records. UC Davis finished among the top 50 in the nation in 12 different categories, including the top 20 in three-point percentage (No. 5), assists (No. 12), field goal percentage (No. 13), assists per game (No. 16), and winning percentage (No. 17).

In addition, the Aggies earned their first-ever vote in the Associated Press Top 25 on Feb. 26 and were a constant in the College Insider Mid-Major poll all season, finishing the year ranked No. 12 while reaching as high as No. 42 in the RPI. After a perfect 9-0 start to the year, UC Davis was one of a dozen teams to open the year undefeated, posting the best start in the program’s history and the best start by any Big West school since the 1991-92 campaign.

UC Davis became the first Big West school since UC Santa Barbara in 2007-09 to win outright back-to-back regular season titles, while Gross became the first head coach to repeat as the league’s coach of the year since the Gauchos’ Mark French in 1999-01 and became only the fifth head coach in the history of the conference to win consecutive coach of the year awards.

During her tenure as head coach, Gross has coached 12 players to a total of 23 All-Big West honors — including three-time first-team all-conference performer Sydnee Fipps, who became only the second Aggie student-athlete to accomplish the feat (Paige Mintun, 2009-11) and only one of 11 players in the history of the Big West Conference to earn first-team honors at least three times in a career. Fipps eventually ended her career as the program’s all-time scoring leader at the Division I level and second on the school’s all-time list with 1,636 career points.

In 2018, three of her charges reached the 1,000 career point milestone in biomedical engineering major Morgan Bertsch (only the fourth junior in the history of the program to accomplish the feat), political science major Pele Gianotti, and psychology major Rachel Nagel. Gianotti finished 11th on the all-time scoring list with 1,222 at the time of her graduation, while Nagel was 18th with 1,077. Bertsch enters the 2018-19 campaign with 1,668 points — good for second on the all-time scoring list and just 43 points behind Carol Rische’s school record.

Coaching at one of the nation’s top public academic institutions, Gross has been the recruiting coordinator for the Aggies since her arrival in 2004 and, as a former three-year CoSIDA Academic All-District VIII honoree, Gross knows what it takes both athletically and academically to succeed at UC Davis.

Off the court, and in the classroom, the Aggies have shined. Senior managerial economics major Dani Nafekh was honored as the winner of the university’s W.P. Lindley Award as the outstanding scholar-athlete of the year, as well as being named the school’s Big West Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year, in 2017, and a CoSIDA Academic All-District second team honoree in 2018. With this year’s awards still to be named later this year, Gross has had a total of 15 players collect 25 combined Big West All-Academic Team citations.

In addition, a number of Gross’ former student-athletes have gone on to professional playing careers in Europe, including Gianotti, who will be playing in Germany this coming year, and Fipps, who is currently in her second season with the Lakeside Lightning in Australia following a stint in Portugal.

Other Aggies who have gone on to professional playing careers in Europe include Celia Marfone, Alyson Doherty, and Kelsey Harris, who all went on to play for clubs in Germany, as well as Brianna Salvatore, who signed with a club in Switzerland following her collegiate career.

Graduates of the UC Davis women’s basketball program have achieved success off the court, as well, in a variety of fields. Among the many post-graduate triumphs: Haylee Donaghe, is finishing up her residency at the Spaulding Rehab Hospital at Harvard Medical School, Idit Oryon is heading up the business development team at San Francisco start-up RapidAPI, Salvatore is currently pursuing her masters degree at Sciences Po School of International Affairs in Paris, and Molly Greubel recently secured a position as a research associate at Indaba Capital Management, L.P., in San Francisco.

Recent graduate Lauren Beyer went on to earn her master’s degree in accounting from the UC Davis Graduate School of Management and secured a position at Deloitte & Touche LLP in downtown Sacramento. After walking across the stage at UC Davis in the coming weeks, Nafekh will be attending law school at Pepperdine, while Nagel will serve as the head varsity girls basketball coach at her high school alma mater, Whitney High School, before going on to pursue a graduate degree.

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