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Elk Grove Citizen

CRC's Kirby Turns Around Women’s Basketball Team

Mar 28, 2024 10:35AM ● By By Ryan Lorenz

Coach Samuel Kirby monitors play between his CRC Hawks and San Jose City College. Photo by Ryan Lorenz

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - During a scrimmage to prepare for a big tournament game in late February, Cosumnes River College women’s basketball coach Samuel Kirby started shouting out “terrible calls” to get the team in a championship mindset.
Some of the players got irritated and upset with the calls and muttered under their breath. They were told to run the court.
When the practice was done, Kirby called a huddle and spoke to his team. The huddle broke with a shout of “family on three!”
Kirby’s unique approach and ability to connect with his players has led to a lot of success at the college. The team’s revival started with the hiring of Kirby in fall 2022.
Kirby quickly embedded himself in history at Cosumnes River College with the team this year winning the most number of games in a season since joining the Big 8 Conference in 2005. The team made the California Community College Athletic Association playoffs for the first time since the 2013-14 season. They were defeated in the third round in early March by Butte College.
“I didn’t think about it much to be honest,” Kirby said. “I knew I wanted to be part of basketball but I didn’t know in what way and it kind of just happened.”
The Player
Kirby grew up in the North Highlands region of Sacramento and became interested in basketball as a child, due to his father’s passion for the game.
“It started when I was 4 years old,” Kirby said. “My dad was a huge sports fan but a big-time basketball fan. He built the basketball court in our backyard when I was like 10 and from there, it’s been the love of my life.”
Kirby’s passion followed him as he attended Sacramento’s Foothill High School and graduated in 2003 after helping his team reach the Division III state championship.
“I always tell people I was a shooting guard trapped in a point guard’s body because I really love to score and I can shoot,” Kirby said.
He played two years at San Joaquin Delta College and two more at Seattle University.
The Assistant Coach
Kirby had to stay another year at Seattle University to get his degree but his coach, Joe Calero, saw an opportunity for him to stick around the basketball team as a student assistant coach.
“It was good from the aspect that I’m kind of seeing both sides,” Kirby said. “The coaching aspect and why they’re doing things that they’re doing and the player aspect.”
Kirby became a top assistant coach at Shoreline Community College, Cañada College, Cal Poly and Sacramento State University.
Then Cosumnes River College’s women's basketball head coach position became available.
Bernard Seals, assistant coach to Cosumnes River College’s men’s basketball team, was a former shooting guard for Seattle University and a former roommate of Kirby’s.
Kirby listened to Seals and asked for advice from Mark Campbell, a former coach at Sacramento State University, who transitioned from men’s to women’s basketball.
Their guidance was enough for Kirby to apply for the position and reach out to Cosumnes River College’s Athletic Director Collin Pregliasco.
“We were kind of blown away from not only his background but who he is and what he stands for as a coach,” Pregliasco said.
The Head Coach
Cosumnes River College’s women’s basketball program was struggling. Pregliasco said there was no head coach, no returning athletes and a need to establish a winning culture on and off the court.
“We wanted to make sure that they were being provided the best atmosphere not only to be successful as an athlete but overall,” Pregliasco said.
Kirby was able to shift from men’s to women’s basketball with help from experts. 
“Trust me, I was so lost in a lot of areas when it comes to women’s basketball just based on simple stuff like hair ties,” Kirby said. “It was just great to have people on my staff to just tell me the truth.”
Kirby didn’t have to look far for an assistant coach because he had one in the family.
“I’ve been training kids since I got out of college,” assistant coach Brittany Shine said. “We were having a family barbeque and I told him, ‘If you ever get a coaching position I want to be on your staff.”
Not only does Kirby know Shine but she has played professionally for Iraq, Egypt, Portugal, China with the USA Select Team, Spain, Turkey, Cyprus, Morocco, Tunisia and most recently Kenya.
Shine received the call from her cousin while she was in Cabo.
“He called me and was like, ‘ready to coach?’” Shine said. “I’m like, ‘let’s do it.’ Didn’t ask him where or nothing.”
The Culture Builder
Kirby’s first season ended with a 9-19 record and 3-13 record in the Big 8 Conference. 
“I’ve never been the type to just take losing and be OK with it,” Kirby said. “There’s some games last year where we lost by 60 and I’ll never forget that.”
Kirby has a competitive fire in him, taking the losses and looking for ways to improve himself as a coach and his team’s performance.
“There’s a lot of great coaches in this conference and I respect all of them,” Kirby said. “But I want to beat all of them, too.”
One way to beat them is with a great recruiting class. 
In Kirby’s first year, he had about two weeks of recruiting. Three of the players he recruited returned to the team in his second. 
One of them was sophomore guard Ashley Gonzalez from Texas.
Gonzalez has been a co-captain of the team since her arrival and has taken on the task of bringing up the new recruits to the expectations of Kirby as well as preaching the importance of achieving success in the classroom.
“I usually try to tell them to stick to school and basketball because if you’re not doing good in school, then you’re not going to play basketball,” Gonzalez said.
Approaching Adversity
One player injured her ankle walking out of practice and missed a few games, another had a concussion.
The team had battled through adversity, whether it was losses, injuries or sickness, but Kirby has made it a focus to prepare for the unexpected and get better.
“I don’t believe in getting sick,” Kirby said. “Obviously, sickness is a real thing but when it comes to me, if I do the right things, take care of my body, eat right, workout; the chances of me getting sick is very, very low.”
This might sound familiar to avid basketball fans out there who followed Michael Jordan in 1997.
“If you want to win, there’s a process to winning,” Kirby said. “That process is going to help you because it is going to equate to wins.”
What is the process to winning games?
According to Kirby, it’s showing up to practice with the mindset of improving, taking care of yourself and improving your game when you're not on the court.
Family First
“Your family is always going to have your back, right or wrong,” Shine said. “We try to tell our players that it's a family.”
The coaches treat their team just like a family. Everything they do is to help the team but also the individual players with whatever they are facing on and off the court. 
“We try to have an open-door system,” Shine said. “I feel like it’s important to have that relationship on and off the court, so they know that we have their back as a family, not just for basketball.”
Gonzalez said she had gone to Kirby for many reasons throughout the season, not just for basketball but for “whatever reason.”
“He has a really big heart,” Gonzalez said. “As a player, I’ve never seen that in a coach.”
Pregliasco said that the goal at Cosumnes River College goal is “to make this better to work than wherever you’re going.”
Kirby has helped the athletic department achieve that and more.
“He has jumped right in, whether it was facility stuff, whether it’s the coaching side, whether it’s stepping up to help each other, out of season, in-season, all of that,” Pregliasco said. “He’s been a perfect fit.”
Ryan Lorenz is a Sacramento State journalism major and former sports editor at Cosumnes River College’s The Connection.