By Brad Cox
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
On Jan. 18, Texas A&M senior Kiley Finstad was one step closer to completing her journey.
Before the Aggies’ game against Oklahoma that day, the guard was given what she had been waiting for - a scholarship.
Finstad was a standout basketball player at Meridian High in Cranfills Gap, Texas. After graduating in 2004, she was a three-time district most valuable player, a first team all-state selection, and a McDonald’s High School All-America nominee.
She began her collegiate career at Redlands Community College in El Reno, Okla. In two seasons with the Cougars, she was named an all-region and all-conference selection. She also helped Redlands to No. 8 national ranking and a regional championship in 2007.
After her time at Redlands, Finstad was ready for something different. She came from a family of Aggies and had always wanted to attend A&M since she was a child.
“I got offered to play at some smaller colleges, but I ultimately decided that I didn’t want to go to school just for basketball,” Finstad said. “I wanted to get a good education. I really wanted to go to a bigger school”
When Finstad arrived on campus, she still had the drive to play basketball. After meeting with the A&M coaching staff, she tried out for the walk-on team.
She did not make the team, but the staff was impressed with what they saw. A&M head coach Gary Blair told Finstad to attend team practices to see if she could keep up.
After a few practices, Finstad found herself playing with the men’s practice squad. She was the only woman on the team.
“I was sitting there watching the practice and I guess they needed an extra person to do some drills and he was like ‘hey, you over there, what can you do? Go get her a jersey,’” Finstad said. “They threw me a jersey and sent me out there. I kind of got thrown into it.”
Finstad said it was fun being the only girl on the practice team. The group competes against both the men’s and women’s teams during practice. Finstad said the women like to play against men because they compare to what the Aggies would face in Big 12 play.
However, when playing against the men, Finstad went toe-to-toe with guys like Bryan Davis and Josh Carter.
“They tried to give me a hard time,” Finstad said. “We have an unspoken rule that what happens in the gym stays in the gym, and you don’t want to go off bragging about the guys. Sometimes they get their stuff handed to them but they want to keep that on the down low. We try not to rub it in too much.”
After joining the practice team, Finstad continued to take her role head on. She said two other girls had been given a similar opportunity to attend practice but not be on the team, but they had decided to not stick with it.
Finstad said she was used to playing basketball everyday while in junior college and since she did not know anyone at A&M, playing with the practice team afforded her the opportunity to meet people.
“I just stuck with it and I think [Blair] liked it,” Finstad said. “He could count on me, I was dependable. I think that’s what he looks for in a teammate.”
Finstad made her A&M debut against Stephen F. Austin on Jan. 3, 2008. Despite playing one minute and missing a field goal, but she had taken an important step toward reaching her goals. During the 2007-2008 season, she ended up playing in a total eight games.
After returning for her senior year, she reached her ultimate goal - a scholarship. Blair approached her before the Jan. 18 game against Oklahoma and told her she would be on scholarship for the remainder of her career.
“It was extremely rewarding,” Finstad said. “It has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, and step-by-step it has really been a slow process. I set tiny goals and I’ve worked to achieve those goals one at a time. That was the main goal and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there, but once I was finally there I was like ‘Wow, I did it, I set a goal and I stuck with it and I didn’t give up and I’m where I want to be.’”
In 2008-09, Finstad has played a total of six minutes through seven games. She said that even though it’s difficult not getting much playing time, she’s happy.
“It’s hard, but at the same time I had my two years of playing,” Finstad said of her junior-college career. “I could have gone to a smaller school and I could have been the star and I could have played a lot, but not everyone can come to Texas A&M and play for the once-third ranked team in the nation. That was more important than me being a superstar.”