“There’s not an opportunity for you to become complacent, because there’s always someone that’s working just as hard or harder than you, that is looking to take that opportunity from you,” Khalia Collier, owner and general manager of the St. Louis Surge Women’s Basketball team, begins. It’s the outlook that she instills in the team coming into the 2017 season as defending National Champions – an outlook of progress on the clock and off, in season or off.
“Last year, the players learned that they had to play together as a team and a family,” she says. “It was something that you saw consistently – that they were a family on and off the court, which made the determining difference as to why we won another championship.”
Not only is the Surge pursuing a championship back to back, they’re hosting the National Tournament in St. Louis in 2017, giving them the opportunity to win at home.
But winning isn’t anything new to this professional women’s basketball team. Besides winning last year, the Surge took the championship in 2014 as well, and was runners-up in 2012 and 2015. This year, their senses are elevated, with that back-to-back championship title as crucial as ever.
“You know, you’re hungry,” Khalia says. “Knowing that we won in 2014, we came back to get in that mentality in 2015, and when we fell short, everyone started last year’s season ready to get back and win another championship. You saw that within the mentality of our coaching staff, you saw that in the mental preparation of our players, knowing that their goal was to win a national championship.”
New this year – as the ladies have been playing at UMSL the past five years – is a relocated home court at the renovated stadium at the Washington University Field House, a more ideal and central location for the team. The Surge has also launched a new website at stlsurgebasketball.com, with improved content and more information about the team than ever before. “You get to know about myself, the history of the Surge, as well as more information about the players and the staff,” Khalia says.
“Everyone is just excited,” she continues. “There’s just so much momentum that we’ve been gaining from year to year to year, and the traction that we’ve been able to gain just in the community with attendance. The fact that we are looking at drawing 2,000 to 3,000 consistently to every Surge game – potentially over 3,000 – and the excitement for our star players that are returning this year to come off a championship year, there’s just a ton of highs. And I think that’s what’s fun at the start of every season. We’re like, ‘Oh man, it’s here again.’ And you just kind of get butterflies.”
Even in their own lives, their own jobs and their own interests, the ladies understand that being part of the Surge is not just being part of a team, it’s a lifestyle. “Every female athlete knows that it’s career first, but basketball being an expectation,” Khalia explains. “Winning is an expectation for our program, and the resources that we surround our players with prepares them, not only as player development, but career development. And that’s something that is a key part of our model, that we recruit character first. When the players are trying out, they know that it’s not just about how many points you can score or how many rebounds, we’re looking for an overall great person that happens to be a phenomenal athlete.”
By setting such an expectation, the team comes in with a mentality knowing that it’s not just what they can do on the court, but whether they also enjoy being in the community, working with kids and understanding of the magnitude of the impact they can have on the next generation of players and fans.
“We are truly everywhere, and every fan we have, we’ve earned,” she says. “And we’ve shown that by how many school districts we are in, how many clinics we are doing for kids of all ages, and making sure that our presence is known. I do six to eight speaking engagements a month, the coaching staff is incredibly involved, and I’m proud of what our players do. Separate from being a part of the Surge, they are involved and volunteering and doing things that are not mandated to be a part of the program.”
Coming into the season, Khalia looks her own team as its biggest rival. “We can always stand in our own way, and if we don’t come out every day dedicated to giving it everything we have, or our coaching staff aren’t pushing our players to their fullest potential, that’s our competitor right now. Because when we do the little things and go as hard as we possibly can, it makes it incredibly challenging for anyone to compete with us.”
The home opener is set for 7:05 p.m. June 10. For more information on season tickets, game schedule, team information and more, visit stlsurgebasketball.com.V
by Kevin Schmidt