CORVALLIS, Ore. – No hard feelings, Gonzaga fans: Katie Baker – now Katie Faulkner – still roots for the Zags.
So does her mom, who continues to own season tickets to see the women at the Kennel.
But Monday night, both women will be wearing orange.
Mom will be in the stands, and Katie, a former Lake City High School star who dearly wanted to play for the Zags, will help coach Oregon State in their second-round NCAA Tournament game at Gill Coliseum.
For the 28-year-old, it’s a dream job – which is only fair, because her biggest dream as a child was to play for Gonzaga.
The family had tickets on the front row. Katie went to every camp, every game.
“I thought for the longest time I’d go to Gonzaga,” she said.
The leading scorer in Lake City history, she was on the recruiting radar of former coach Kelly Graves’ staff for several years.
And then she wasn’t.
“God’s plan for me,” she said.
Katie found solace and eventually stardom at the University of Montana, but first came more hardship. Overcoming a season-ending ACL tear as a freshman, she had an emergency appendectomy a year later.
Told by doctors that she’d miss three weeks, Katie returned in 10 days and helped lead the Griz to the NCAA Tournament in 2011.
She also got to play at the Kennel. Her brother was there too, with a message for Graves: “Katie Baker – Kelly’s ‘Grave’ mistake,” the sign read.
Two years later, the 6-foot forward was a unanimous choice as Big Sky Conference player of the year. Her collegiate career didn’t begin in Spokane, but it ended there with another NCAA appearance.
“I had a great career at Montana,” said Katie, who finished fifth all-time in scoring at Montana, 10th in rebounding, and fifth in blocked shots.
She played a year of professional ball in Europe before returning home to Coeur d’Alene.
Back in the real world, she was accepted into the rigorous nurse practitioner program at Montana State.
Her parents were pleased. “Then I said, ‘I don’t want to go.’”
Following her passion for the game, she spent a year as an assistant coach at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.
A year later, in the spring of 2016, she was a 25-year-old graduate assistant at Wisconsin, “folding shirts in a basement” when a call came from OSU coach Scott Rueck.
The Beavers, who had just reached the Final Four, needed a full-time assistant to work with post players.
“I didn’t know that she was the right person because of her lack of experience at the time,” said Rueck, who flew Katie to Corvallis for an interview.
Several months later, she still hadn’t heard back. Figuring she was judged to be too young for the job, she accepted a director of operations position at Montana.
That lasted a week. After interviewing other candidates, Rueck “knew I needed this person as part of our program because we share almost every philosophy.”
“She’s also a great competitor,” Rueck said.
With Katie on board, The Beavers reached the Sweet 16 two years ago and the Elite Eight last season.
“I love working and learning under Scott,” she said. “He’s built something that I really identify with, and he does things the right way.”
She still returns to Coeur d’Alene as often as possible. Last fall she was married there and now goes by Katie Faulkner.
“I miss it,” she said. “You don’t appreciate it until you leave.
“And I still love the Zags.”
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