This summer has been a jam-packed one for Jamie Craighead.
Long hours spent on recruiting trips, practices, workouts and meetings are just a few of the things that have made for a busy time for the former Elma High School standout.
She’s quickly learning what it takes to be an NCAA Division I basketball coach.
“It’s less basketball and more meetings,” Craighead said jokingly.
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After seven years as an assistant coach for three women’s college basketball programs, Craighead was promoted to head coach at Sacramento State University in California on May 1.
“For me, it’s the right time,” Craighead, 29, said from her home in Sacramento. “It’s still nerve-wracking. The pressure is what you want.”
Drawing from her decorated playing days as a two-sport athlete at Elma and then as one of the University of Oregon’s best 3-point shooters, Craighead hopes her time as a winner on the court will help her make Sacramento State into a winning program.
“I’ve worked really hard for this,” she said.
BECOMING THE HORNETS’ LEADER
If there was a set occasion for downtime in the coaching ranks, this early August stretch of summer might be it.
She returned late last week from an NCAA certified evaluation tournament in San Diego, where some of the best high school players in the country take part in games that are watched by college coaches.
Craighead and her staff are looking to sign four players for the Hornets’ upcoming recruiting class. Players can officially sign letters of intent starting Nov. 11.
“We’re following the same kids … we’ve watched them all summer,” Craighead said.
Craighead spent two seasons on the coaching staff at Sacramento State before taking over after head coach Dan Muscatell resigned in April to become an assistant coach at Oregon.
Muscatell was the Rochester High School boys basketball coach from 1994 to ’99 and was an assistant at Oregon during Craighead’s playing career.
For regulation purposes, the school hired her on a one-year interim basis, which allows Craighead to be hired permanently following the 2009-10 season without opening up the position to a nationwide search.
All of the team’s players went to Sacramento State athletic director Dr. Terry Wanless and said they wanted Craighead to be the program’s next head coach.
“I feel Jamie is well prepared to continue the progress that the women’s basketball program has shown,” Wanless said in a statement. “She’s worked under three head coaches and has been mentored very well. We’re excited to give her this opportunity.”
A WINNER ON THE COURT
Her desire to win and hate-to-lose mentality have stayed with Craighead from her playing days.
Her flashy style and sharp shooting as a guard at Elma helped the Eagles soar to new heights in the late 1990s. With Craighead leading the way, the Eagles had two fourth-place finishes at the Class 2A state tournament.
As a senior following the 1997-98 season, she was named the Class 2A state player of the year after guiding Elma to a 25-2 record and, at one point, the No. 1 ranking in the state.
Craighead finished her career with the school records for points (1,669), assists (653), steals (405) and blocked shots (168).
“We had the best time. It was a lot of fun,” Craighead said. “The best parts were memories of the people I got to be around. It’s a special place.”
She was recruited by many Division I schools, including Oregon, Arizona State, Portland State and Washington. She took her only official visit to Oregon and immediately committed.
At Oregon, she finished her career second on the school’s all-time list for 3-pointers made (182) and seventh in 3-point field goal percentage (36.9). She led the Ducks to three straight NCAA tournament appearances and the 2002 WNIT title as a senior.
“It was a great way to go out,” she said.
GETTING THE COACHING KNACK
The question wasn’t whether Craighead would become a college basketball coach, it was when.
She immediately stepped into the coaching ranks out of college, and in her seven-year tenure as an assistant, Craighead learned under some prominent coaches.
For three years, she coached under Gordy Presnell at Seattle Pacific University and was part of a powerhouse program. The Falcons were 80-5 during that three-year stretch and made it to the NCAA Division II national title game.
In two years at Portland State, she helped turn around a program that had been struggling.
She moved on to Sacramento State for the 2007-08 season and has quickly moved up the ranks.
She was an assistant coach during her first season before being promoted to associated head coach last season.
The Hornets finished the 2008-09 season 9-21 overall and 7-9 in the Big Sky Conference – the program’s best conference mark since joining the Big Sky in 1996.
With all but one player returning from last season’s team and a roster loaded with upperclassmen, Sacramento State is considered a program on the rise.
“I think they have goals for me and definitely some expectations,” Craighead said. “I’m hoping to live up to those.”
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473