By Samantha Thompson
City on a Hill Press Co-Editor in Chief
Ten broken records, 1,496 points, zero regrets.
In the four years that Kayleigh Calandri has played for the UC Santa Cruz women’s basketball team, she’s made a name for herself as one of the greatest players in the history of the program. She’s achieved about as much success as an individual can have in the sport, writing in her name next to virtually every record in collegiate basketball, except for one: a winning season.
But now, after hanging up her Slugs jersey for the last time, Calandri, the team’s captain for two years, is looking back on her four years without any feelings of regret. As she walks away with a smile on her face, she does so feeling confident that her choice to play for the Slugs was completely worthwhile.
“I decided pretty early to come to UCSC,” Calandri said. “But it took me visiting three different times. I wasn’t really a big fan of the trees, honestly, but I came back again and met the team and that’s when I decided.
“It was so great because I was with such a passionate group of people,” she said. “In Division III you don’t always get the top athletes, but they’re the ones with the most heart and passion.”
Recruited with the intention of rebuilding a struggling program, Calandri was not able to find the team success that she might have been able to find at other universities.
“We wished we could have produced more wins for her,” women’s basketball coach Nikki Turner said, “but I think she’s getting out of it what she wanted to get. She had a personal impact and was really a part of something, and for her that was more important.”
Teammates agreed, recognizing that while Calandri’s talent stood out in DIII, it was the best place for her to make a difference.
“If anything, I think it helped her in the long run,” sophomore Mikaela Medeiros said. “It’s hard to go through seasons where you don’t win as many as you should have, and playing with teammates that didn’t get the opportunity to go to the DI level, but it made her better. It’s hard to lose and to build a program, but she would have had success wherever she went.”
Before making the decision to come to UC Santa Cruz, Calandri considered many other options that ranged from other DIIIs to Ivy League schools like Brown University, and some with historically strong programs like Gonzaga, a DI school.
“I think she could have [played DI or DII], but I think that’s why we became such a good fit,” Turner said. “She didn’t have all these expectations and I knew she’d be successful. In DI it’s so much more work and effort and in DIII there’s still a lot of that work and effort, but here she was able to feel more accomplished.
“She knew she could make a name for herself in this program,” Turner continued. “You can’t help but respect her game and she just seemed to mesh so well with this team.”
During her junior year, Calandri broke one of the most coveted records in basketball. At an away game in Texas, she clinched UCSC’s all-time scoring record, becoming the first Slug, male or female, to pass 1,000 points.
“They told me before the game how many points I needed [which was 14],” she said. “And at halftime, I had two points. It was just stressing me out. But in second half, I got a lot of points and everyone on the bench cheered for me. It was really exciting.”
On Feb. 28, Calandri ended her athletic career at UCSC, carrying the team to a 79-47 victory against La Sierra. In that last game, Calandri scored an astounding 38 points and added two records to her name.
“She’s surpassed [my expectations],” Turner said. “For the first few years, we knew she was doing well, but then in this last year, she did a lot of things that completely broke the mold and she really ended it in the best way possible.”
Now with graduation on the horizon, Calandri is exploring her options for a post-college career. While she wants to pursue graduate school, she will first be looking into playing professional basketball overseas, and hopes to play for a team in Italy.
Until then, she will continue to work out with the Slugs, the team that she worked four years to help build.
“A lot of people knew about Santa Cruz because of Kayleigh and now they’re going to want to step up,” teammate and freshman Jen Marquez said. “We don’t want to do less than she did, though we may not be able to fill her shoes. But I think we can only go up from here, thanks to what Coach Turner and Kayleigh did for this program.”
Turner couldn’t be prouder of what Calandri, her first four-year recruit, has accomplished.
“I hope she knows that she put this program on the map and the impact she had on other people,” Turner said. “Now people can look to that and try to accomplish what Kayleigh did and know that it is possible to do all those things.”
And despite the limited success of the team, to Calandri, joining the Slugs and being able to lead a team — forming lifelong friendships and achieving so many personal goals in the process — was undoubtedly a success.
“I think for a lot of high school girls, they think they need to go DI and if they don’t they might think it’s the end of the world,” Calandri said. “But this has been the best experience I could have asked for, and despite the fact that we were undersupported, this was absolutely 100 percent worth it.”
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