LA JOLLA, Calif. — If it seems like Dalayna Sampton never left, it's because she hasn’t.
An All-America honorable mention and conference player of the year in 2017-18, Sampton is among the best players to ever put on a UC San Diego uniform.
Now she’s developing into an assistant coach while still under the tutelage of head coach Heidi VanDerveer.
“Going from a player to a coach and working under (VanDerveer) is a dream come true,” said Sampton. “I know I’ll never have this opportunity again because I am still so close to the team.”
It all happened so fast. In a matter of months, Sampton went from scoring a career-high 30 points with 11 rebounds in the Tritons’ final game of the 2017-18 season — a two-point NCAA West Region semifinal loss to Montana State Billings — to a highly respected member of the coaching staff.
From the players’ perspective, it takes a little getting used to.
“It’s definitely different and a little bit weird,” said senior guard Joleen Yang. “But if anyone were to come back and coach us, it would make sense to be Dalayna because she was such a leader on the team (last season).
“She would give us criticism last year, so it was an easier transition than it could have been.”
There’s even more familiarity with the Triton post players, who are still battling for rebounds with Sampton during practice just like last year.
“I wasn’t quite sure how it would be, but it’s like last season never ended,” said junior forward Mikayla Williams. “I’m still trying to box her out (in practice), and she’s still got me on strength.
“But it’s really going to help us having someone strong in the post to practice against. If it can work here against her, we can do it against other (post players) out there.”
It could be easy to forget Sampton won’t suit up when UC San Diego's season begins on Nov. 9 against Simon Fraser, but the change has been a seamless transition within the coaching staff.
“It’s great having Dalayna,” said VanDerveer. “She gives us a different perspective and knows what we’re trying to do. She brings tremendous energy, and is very positive.
“She was a great voice when she played and it’s no different when she’s coaching. She gave us tremendous insight last year in terms of helping the team be the best it can be, and I think she does that from this position as well.”
Although many things remain the same, Sampton is still adjusting to her new position.
“The biggest transition is knowing your role,” she said. “As a player, I was able to demand things in practice, be really vocal and have part of the spotlight. As a coach, I want to take a back seat and allow the players to shine just like I had the ability to.
“(VanDerveer) told me when she first started, she was willing to do the little stuff — do anything. I really took that to heart. I’m excited to be in the gym, and I want to bring energy and excitement to the game just like the game has blessed me for so long.”
About UC San Diego Athletics
With 30 national team championships, nearly 150 individual titles and the top student-athlete graduation rate among Division II institutions in the United States, the UC San Diego intercollegiate athletics program annually ranks as one of the most successful in the country. The Tritons sponsor 23 intercollegiate sport programs that compete on the NCAA Division I and II levels and, in summer 2020, will transition into full Division I status as a member of the Big West Conference. UC San Diego student-athletes exemplify the academic ideals of one of the world's preeminent institutions, graduating at an average rate of 91 percent. A total of 80 Tritons have earned Academic All-America honors, while 36 have earned prestigious NCAA Post Graduate Scholarships. In competition, more than 1,300 UC San Diego student-athletes have earned All-America honors.
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