The first time Tim Hays saw Christina Whitelaw play basketball in person, he knew he wasn’t looking at just another player.
The Colorado Christian University coach was so impressed by what he saw, he decided to change the way his team played.
“From the first time I saw her, I knew she was going to be somebody we could build a program around,” Hays said. “We decided to change some things defensively, because she changes what we can do. We had a very good idea of who she was and what she was capable of. We knew she was going to be a program-changer for us.”
Hays’ assistant, Jessika Caldwell, had seen Whitelaw play for years at St. Mary’s while she served as women’s coach at Colorado-Colorado Springs. Caldwell recommended Whitelaw so highly that Hays offered her a scholarship, and Whitelaw signed an early letter of intent.
What came next, no one expected.
Whitelaw roared onto the NCAA Division II scene, leading all three NCAA divisions — both men’s and women’s hoops — in steals at 5.5 per game. She also leads the Cougars in scoring (15.3 points) and assists (3.7) and is first in rebounds (7.0).
Her 149 steals is 47 shy of the Division II single-season record, and she has recorded two triple-doubles. Her feats have led the Cougars to an 18-10 record and their first berth in the NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament, where they’ll face regional third seed Wayne State in Durango on Friday.
Whitelaw was named Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference player of the week six times, earned RMAC Freshman of the Year honors and was a first team all-RMAC selection and the RMAC Defensive Player of the Year. Most recently, the guard was named a first team all-region selection.
Not bad for a freshman.
“There’s always a question with freshmen coming in how quickly they’ll adjust to the college level,” said Hays, who lost two all-conference players from last year’s squad. “I think it took about a month after her high school graduation, when we saw her play in the RMAC summer league, to figure that one out. She’s definitely the most well-rounded player we’ve ever had.
“What she does individually doesn’t even tell the whole story about how much better she makes everyone else on the floor.”
The ever-humble Whitelaw downplays her accomplishments.
“It’s pretty cool, but I’m not really focused on that,” Whitelaw said. “I don’t really think much about it, because I’m trying to focus on the team’s game.”
The amazing thing is that she’s done it while playing with a broken foot.
Whitelaw isn’t sure when it happened, but she broke off the end of a bone in her left foot last spring while helping lead St. Mary’s to a second straight state soccer title. She fought through preseason workouts and has played through pain all season.
“She never complains and never says a word about it,” Hays said. “She plays the most minutes for us and just does what she does every game. I don’t know too many players who can be one of the best players in the country as a freshman and have a broken foot.
“For one player to have that kind of impact is phenomenal, but when she’s a freshman with a broken foot, that’s something worth talking about. It’s pretty exceptional and really says a lot about her character.”
Whitelaw, who will have surgery immediately after the season, hasn’t let pain get in the way of her impressive campaign.
“It’s a little injury, but nothing that’s going to keep me from playing,” said Whitelaw, the 2010 Gazette soccer Player of the Year.
She has enjoyed the transition to college life and relishes time she spends with her teammates, who are a close-knit group.
“It’s been great,” Whitelaw said. “It’s just like a family here. We’re all playing for the same purpose, and everybody realizes that. We go after it together.”