When UNLV was searching for its next women's basketball coach -- a person that could return the proud program to its place among the nation's best -- it didn't have to look far. The school turned to one of its own by hiring former Lady Rebel All-American Kathy Olivier as the eighth full-time head coach in UNLV women's basketball history on April 22, 2008. After six seasons with Olivier at the helm, there's no doubt that UNLV made the right choice.
After three years of steady improvement, it all came together for the Lady Rebels in Olivier's fourth year in Las Vegas, as UNLV posted its best season in almost a decade. The Lady Rebels posted a 22-10 record during the year, and claimed their first-ever top-two finish in the Mountain West with a 10-4 mark to place second. The year included numerous highlights, including wins at Iowa and at home over Kansas State and Fresno State, all teams that would reach the NCAA Tournament. UNLV began the year with a 6-0 start, and would receive votes in both the AP and the coaches' Top 25 poll for the majority of the first two months of the season. Though the Lady Rebels were upset in the MW Tournament first round, they would earn the team's first postseason berth in six years with a trip to the WNIT, a first-round game at Saint Mary's. Another highlight of the year was placing a school-record four players on the All-Mountain West conference teams.
In Olivier's first season on the bench, the Lady Rebels immediately showed their renewed enthusiasm for their new coach with the first 3-0 start in seven years, and the team was the talk of the conference after an inspiring run to the 2009 Mountain West Tournament semifinals as the seven seed. UNLV would finish the year with a six-game win improvement, end longtime losing streaks to TCU and Utah, and win two games in the league tournament for the second time in conference history. In 2009-10, the Lady Rebels continued their climb back to prominence under Olivier, and posted several impressive upsets, including a pair of road wins at Utah and New Mexico, as well as a home victory over eventual Sweet 16 participant San Diego State. Last season saw another run of impressive victories, including another road win at New Mexico, as well as a win over MW tournament-champion Utah.
UNLV had hoped to find a coach that had both success on the national level and was a strong recruiter, and Olivier showed off her recruiting skills right from the start. Almost exactly one month after she was hired, Olivier signed her first recruit, Jamie Smith, who 10 months later became the first Lady Rebel to be named MW Freshman of the Year. Olivier and her staff continued to shine on the recruiting trail, as the team's 2009-10 recruiting class was ranked in the top 60 in the nation.
Olivier came to UNLV after serving as head coach at UCLA for 15 years (from May 3, 1993, to March 11, 2008). While leading the Bruins she helped produce two Pac-10 players of the year, three Pac-10 freshmen of the year, a Pac-10 team championship, a Pac-10 tournament championship and a trip to the 1999 Elite Eight. She steadily built the Bruin program to reflect her own positive, upbeat and outgoing personality, and is well on her way to transforming the Lady Rebels into a conference contender.
From 1998-2000, she led UCLA to a school-best three straight NCAA tournament appearances. In her last 11 seasons as head coach, Olivier guided the Bruins to seven top-four Pac-10 conference finishes, a total bettered by just one other conference foe.
In her 15 seasons as UCLA head coach Olivier posted a 232-208 overall mark. Her teams favored a running game on offense. But defense has always been an Olivier strong point. Seven of the 10 all-time UCLA top marks for lowest opponent field percentages belong to Olivier-coached squads.
In 2008, forward Lindsey Pluimer earned honorable mention AP All-America, as well as first team All-Pac-10. Also, UCLA's win over second-ranked Stanford marked the program's first ever over an opponent ranked higher than fourth in the AP poll.
Olivier's 2006 squad finished the season strong, placing third in the Pac-10 regular-season standings and then winning the conference tournament for the first time with wins on consecutive days over California, Arizona State and Stanford. The Arizona State victory gave Olivier her 200th career win. The Bruins advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and finished with a 21-11 record. Olivier coached three AP and WBCA/Kodak honorable mention All-Americans in Quinn, Nikki Blue and Lisa Willis. The trio also earned first team All-Pac-10 honors, Quinn and Willis' second and Blue's fourth, which made her just fifth four-time first team All-Pac-10 selection in conference history. Blue became the first Bruin player to lead the Pac-10 in assists, while Willis, the Pac-10 Tournament MVP, led the league in steals for the third-straight season. UCLA's 10-2 record in Pauley Pavilion (.833) was the highest home court winning percentage posted by a Bruin team since the 1980-81 squad went 15-2 (.882).
In 2005 Blue garnered her third straight first team All-Pac-10 honor, and Willis earned first team recognition for the initial time. However, the Bruins lost Quinn, the leading scorer and rebounder at the time, to a knee injury midway through the season and finished sixth in the Pac-10 after posting non-conference wins over then-No. 4 ranked Texas and then-No. 14 Purdue. Quinn earned honorable mention all-conference and Pluimer was named to the all-conference freshman team.
In 2004 Olivier's Bruins earned a NCAA Tournament berth and finished with a 17-13 overall record and a third-place Pac-10 finish. The team boasted the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, Quinn, and a pair of all-conference performers in Quinn and Blue.
Olivier led the 2003 Bruins to 12 conference victories, a total surpassed by only two other seasons in UCLA history. The 12 wins included five on the road, a total bettered by only one other school that season.
In 2002 Olivier guided a team, which lost its two leading scorers during the season, to the quarterfinal round of the Pac-10 tournament. During the 2001 season, she guided a team, which was playing without eight of its top nine scorers from the previous season, to a winning record at home in Pac-10 play and to wins over two nationally ranked opponents.
Olivier's 2000 squad earned a NCAA Tournament berth for the third straight year and set a home attendance mark with an average of over 3,700 fans. The team battled injuries and a schedule that saw them tangle with three of the eventual Final Four teams and two others which advanced to the Elite Eight.
Olivier's best season at UCLA came in 1999, as she guided her team to the school's first-ever Pac-10 Conference championship and a best-ever Elite Eight finish in the NCAA tournament. A 26-8 record marked UCLA's first back-to-back 20-win seasons since a three-peat in the 1977-79 campaigns. The 26 wins were the most by a Bruin team since the 1981 squad went 29-7 and the third-highest in school annuls. The final ranking of No. 7 in the nation was the highest ever for a UCLA team in the USA Today coaches poll and the best finish in any poll since a similar ranking in the Associated Press poll in 1981.
In 1998 she directed a Bruin team that featured two Pac-10 Freshmen of the Year to the school's best-ever conference finish at the time (second, 14-4) and the best winning percentage (20-9, .690) in 17 seasons. It was the first 20-win season for a Bruin team since its last NCAA team won 21 in 1992. The season also marked the first time a Bruin team had been ranked in the regular season Associated Press poll for more than a week's time since 1982-83.
Prior to taking over as the head coach, as an assistant Olivier was instrumental in landing two-sport standout Natalie Williams, recognized as the Pac-10's Athlete of the Decade in a 1996 vote of conference officials.
The dynamic Bruin coach originally joined the UCLA staff in the summer of 1986. In her seven seasons as an assistant, the team enjoyed five winning years and reached the NCAA Tournament in two of the final four years. In 1991-92, the Bruins compiled a record of 21-10 and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16.
Olivier began her coaching career at her alma mater, UNLV, as a graduate assistant in 1981-82. From there it was on to UC Irvine as an assistant coach (1982-83), and then USC, where she was on the Trojan staff for three years (1983-84 through 1985-86) as an assistant. USC, led by sophomore Cheryl Miller, won the NCAA title in Olivier's first year (1984) and reached the championship game in her third season (1986).
The former Kathy Ricks, Olivier was a standout player at Cal State Fullerton and then at UNLV. As a freshman (1977-78) at CSF, she averaged 15.6 points and 9.2 rebounds her first season and raised her scoring average to 19.3 as a sophomore.
Making the move to Las Vegas for her final two seasons, Olivier earned All-America honors while averaging a team-high 16.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in the 1979-80 season. The team finished with a 22-8 record under coach Dan Ayala and advanced to the AIAW Regionals in San Jose, where UNLV lost to USC 78-77 in overtime. In her final year (1980-81), she led the Lady Rebels in scoring (20.2) and ranked second in rebounding (9.2). She still ranks on several all-time lists at UNLV, as her career 18.1 ppg average is the second-highest in team history. She is also eighth in career free throw percentage (76.8%), and her 20.2 ppg her senior year ranks as the 10th best in a season for the Lady Rebels. Olivier played one year on the tennis team as well, in 1979.
A native of Placentia, Calif., Olivier comes from an accomplished athletic family, as her sister Mary Ricks played on UCLA's national championship softball teams in 1984 and 1985, and her brother Tom Ricks played on USC's baseball team from 1975-77. Olivier passed on her athletic traits to her daughter, as she coached Alexis (23) on the UCLA squad in 2007 and 2008.
Associate Head Coach
Caitlin Collier is in her seventh year on the Lady Rebel staff after being hired in May of 2008. After spending two years as the top assistant, she was promoted in the summer of 2010 to associate head coach.
Collier came to UNLV after serving 11 years as the first and only head women's basketball coach at Menlo College in Atherton, Calif. The two-time Cal Pac Conference Coach of the Year led Menlo to an average of 20 wins over the past four seasons, including the 2006-07 season when the Oaks finished at 25-3 (16-0 in conference play). Collier had a career record of 172-96 at the school after starting the program from scratch in 1997. She led the Oaks to three NAIA tournament appearances, including a Sweet 16 finish in 2006. The team also won three conference tournament championships, two regular-season championships, and in 2006-07 it finished the year ranked No. 7 in the NAIA national top-25, the highest in program history. The Oaks were also ranked No. 2 nationally in team defense during the 2006-07 season.
Collier also had been Menlo's Director of Athletics since July of 2003, the first woman to hold the position in the school's 75-year history, and saw the Oaks win the Cal Pac Conference All Sports Trophy in 2006-07 (the school would win in the 2007-08 season as well). She was selected as president of the NAIA Women's Basketball Coaches Association in October 2007.
Prior to Menlo, Collier spent one season at Dominican University (Calif.) as assistant coach and assistant athletic director during the 1996-97 season. She played one season for UC Davis (1989-90), and received her bachelor of arts degree in psychology from the school in 1993. Collier also earned a master of arts degree in sports management from the University of San Francisco in 1997, and completed a fellowship at Oxford University in the spring of 2002.
Kalee Whipple, a name familiar to many Lady Rebel fans, is one that will be heard even more now at UNLV, as the Nevada native and former Utah Ute was hired as an assistant coach for the Lady Rebels on Sept. 13 of 2012.
Whipple played at Utah from 2007-10, and was a four-time All-Mountain West forward for the Utes who earned AP Honorable Mention All-America honors her senior year. She helped the Utes reach the postseason all for years in her time in Salt Lake City, including two trips to the NCAA Tournament, with the 2008-09 squad reaching the second round. Whipple finished her career with 1,964 points, which ranks fourth in school history. She's also fourth in career rebounds (905) and steals (218), while her 45 points against TCU in 2010 remains the school and MW record. She received her degree from Utah in May of 2010, a bachelor of science with a concentration in human development and family studies.
Since her graduation, Whipple played one season of basketball overseas in Belgium in 2010, served as head coach for the girls' basketball team at The Meadows High School for the 2011-12 season, and then moved over to coach with the Vegas Elite Basketball Club, since the spring of 2012, before joining the UNLV staff.
A native of Hiko, Nev., Whipple led Pahranagat Valley High School to four straight state championships (2003-06), while earning the Southern Nevada Class 1A MVP every season as well.