After leading the UC Davis women’s basketball team to five consecutive Big West Conference regular season titles, a pair of conference tournament crowns, and five postseason appearances, head women’s basketball coach Jennifer Gross has signed a contract extension that could keep her on the Aggie sidelines for the next decade, it was announced by Director of Athletics Rocko DeLuca earlier this year.
“I am thrilled to have Coach Gross at the helm of our women’s basketball program for many years to come,” DeLuca said in a news release. “Her commitment to her student-athletes, her coaching staff, and UC Davis is a tremendous asset to our department, and I look forward to watching our program continue to thrive in the years to come.
“Coach Gross embodies what it means to be a great leader and has truly built an Aggie family that extends beyond a student-athlete’s time at UC Davis, forging a foundation that sets these young women up for success in their professional pursuits.”
The five-year deal runs through the 2025-26 season and includes five years of additional automatic renewals beginning in 2026-27 that would keep Gross at her alma mater through the 2030-31 campaign, marking the longest contract ever given to a UC Davis head coach in the history of the department.
“I would like to thank Chancellor Gary May, Athletics Director Rocko DeLuca, and Associate Athletics Director Maggie Fenton, for their continued support of our women’s basketball program,” Gross said. “I am fortunate to have the most incredible coaching staff that has invested so much over the years to make this an amazing place for our student-athletes.
“Our goal is to provide a unique and fun experience where we help our players grow into confident leaders, maximize their capacity on the court, compete for championships, and make lasting friendships and memories. UC Davis is such a special community, and I am thrilled to continue doing what I love at such an awesome university.”
Recently wrapping up her 10th season at the helm, the five-time Big West Coach of the Year — and finalist for the 2018 United States Marine Corps/WBCA National Coach of the Year award — has guided the Aggies to a 186-113 (.622) overall record and a 107-49 (.686) mark in Big West play during her tenure, boasting the highest winning percentage among all active league coaches.
Heading up the longest-tenured coaching staff in Division I women’s basketball along with associate head coaches Joe Teramoto and Des Abeyta, and assistant coach Matt Klemin, her 186 victories ranks third in school history and fifth on the league’s all-time list, while her 107 conference wins are seventh in the Big West annals. Just in the last five years alone, the Aggies are a combined 108-37 (.745) overall and 64-10 (.865) in Big West play, with the next closest schools in terms of wins being Long Beach State and CSUN at 65 victories overall and the Beach at 42 league wins.
Meanwhile, the five straight regular season titles make UC Davis one of only four active schools to have won at least that many along with UConn (seven in the American Athletic Conference, one in the BIG EAST), Baylor (11 in the Big 12), and Gonzaga (five in the West Coast Conference).
Gross has also never shied away from competing against challenging opponents, scheduling 14 games against top-25 teams. UC Davis has faced the consensus No. 1-ranked team in the nation three times and hosted 11-time national champion UConn at The Pavilion in front of a record-setting crowd in 2014. Under Gross, the Aggies have notched six wins over “Power Five” teams, including five over Pacific-12 Conference opponents, while her five postseason wins in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament are the most of any school in the history of the Big West.
UC Davis’ dynastic run continued in 2020-21, persevering through the COVID-19 pandemic and a two-month lay-off from competition to claim its fifth consecutive Big West regular season title — and the program’s sixth overall — on the road at Hawai’i, before heading to Las Vegas and running the table, defeating Cal State Fullerton, the Rainbow Wahine, and UC Irvine, en route to its second consecutive tournament title and subsequent NCAA Tournament berth.
Becoming the sixth program in league history to win at least three Big West Tournament titles, the Aggies became the first repeat tournament champion since 2014-15 and became the first team to appear in three straight tournament championship games since UC Santa Barbara accomplished the feat from 1997-2009.
Led by Big West Player of the Year and tournament Most Valuable Player Cierra Hall, Big West Defensive Player of the Year Sage Stobbart, and all-conference honorees Mackenzie Trpcic and Kayla Konrad, UC Davis finished the not-so-ordinary 2020-21 season with a 13-3 overall record and a 9-1 mark in conference play.
The Aggies were then seeded No. 12 in the postseason — the highest-ever NCAA Tournament seed in the program’s Division I history and the highest for a Big West school since 2004 — facing off against No. 5-seeded Missouri State in the opening round in San Antonio. It marked the program’s eighth postseason appearance in 14 years as a Division I program.
During her tenure, Gross has coached a total of 12 All-Big West first team selections, eight second team honorees, and seven honorable mention choices, as well as 10 Big West all-tournament selections, seven Big West All-Freshman Team members, and four Big West All-Defensive Team honorees. In 2019, Big West Player of the Year Morgan Bertsch became the first UC Davis player to be drafted into the WNBA, selected by the Dallas Wings in the third round with the 29th overall pick, after setting the school’s scoring record and finishing her career ranked third all-time in the history of the Big West with 2,422 career points.
Bertsch’s professional career has included award-winning stops with powerhouse Sparta&K Vidnoe in the Russian Professional Basketball League and Pszczolka AZS-UMCS Lublin in Poland, earning her a training camp invite with the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun in 2021.
She is one of a number of Gross’ proteges who have gone on to professional careers overseas including: Pele Gianotti (Germany and Luxembourg), Katie Toole (Spain), Nina Bessolo (Greece), Sophia Song (Great Britain), Sydnee Fipps (Portugal and Australia), Alyson Doherty (Germany), Celia Marfone (Germany), Kelsey Harris (Germany), and Brianna Salvatore (Switzerland).
Off the court, and in the classroom, the Aggies have shined. Dani Nafekh was honored as the winner of the university’s W.P. Lindley Award as the outstanding scholar-athlete of the year, as well as being named the school’s Big West Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year, in 2017, and a CoSIDA Academic All-District second team honoree in 2018.
Her student-athletes have gone on to earn a total of 48 Big West All-Academic Team citations while graduates of the program have launched into a variety of professional careers. Many alumnae keep in regular touch with Gross and the staff, following the team closely, and act as resources for the current student-athletes to help them in their future endeavors.