October 28, 2013

CSUN's Mikayla Thielges Making Switch from Softball to Basketball

NORTHRIDGE, Calif. ---

For all the changes in uniforms and equipment. For all the changes in terminology, from hit-and-run to pick-and-roll. For all the different teammates and different coaches and different playing seasons and schedules. For all the differences Cal State Northridge women's basketball senior Mikayla Thielges has to make, and adjustments she has to go through, the one thing that will not change is that she will be playing for Coach Flowers.

That's the one certainty in this season of change for Thielges, a 6-2 power forward for the Matadors. A four-year letterwinner and two-time All-Big West honoree at catcher for the softball program, Thielges has taken advantage of an opportunity and is trading in the diamond for the hardwood.

For the last three years, she's been a mainstay in the line-up for CSUN softball head coach Tairia Flowers. A steady defensive catcher, Thielges excelled at the plate and finished her career ranked sixth in school history in both home runs and RBIs.

"I owe a lot of my personal growth to softball and Coach Tairia. She has served as a role model to me over these past three years and helped me mature as a young woman," Thielges said.

And now she is making the transition to basketball to play for Jason Flowers. The situation is pretty unique; the Flowers are one of two couples in NCAA Division I athletics heading entirely separate programs. The other couple, Sue and Fran Troyan, is at Lehigh where Fran coaches the softball program and Sue leads the women's basketball squad.

The basketball coach Flowers had heard plenty of positives from the softball coach Flowers about Thielges. How she was a great teammate or how she would run through a wall for her teammates. And how she yearned to play in the postseason, a feat she could not quite accomplish in softball.

"I knew she was a quality person who cared about her teammates and was a hard worker. What I didn't know was that we would be getting an impactful, skilled player. It has been remarkable to see how quickly she picks things up," Jason said.

As the summer developed and the roster worked itself out, the basketball coach Flowers continued to warm up to the idea. He found some old high school stats that told of solid rebounding performances at Silverado High School in Las Vegas. In truth, Thielges was a four-year letterwinner in basketball who twice competed in the state tournament's Final Four.

"The transition has been pretty smooth," Thielges said. "I went in with the attitude that whatever they needed me to do, I'd do it. It has been fun to get back out on the court even though I hadn't played in a while. I love the sport of basketball."

In an unscientific survey of Division I women's basketball programs, Thielges is the only former Division I softball player switching to the hardwood for the 2013-14 season. Just don't think that means things are getting lost in translation.

"She is a quick learner who listens and applies what we are teaching her," Jason added. "Having competed and excelled in another Division I sport, Mikayla brings maturity and experience to the team," Jason added. "She doesn't look like a softball player trying to play basketball."

Ultimately, Thielges' motivation to move to basketball this season was a desire to participate in the postseason. And although she missed out in softball, she is hopeful that basketball can fulfill that wish.

"Qualifying for the postseason is important to me," Thielges explained. "More than anything, I want to be a part of the team and fill whatever role helps the team be successful."

On the basketball side, CSUN has experienced some postseason success during the brief tenure of Jason Flowers. In his second season, the Matadors rode an 11-5 Big West record to a WNIT berth, just the second national postseason appearance for Northridge in its Division I history.

Last season, CSUN earned the sixth seed in the Big West Tournament and scored an opening round victory over UC Davis. That win was Northridge's first in the postseason since 2009, a victory that also came at the expense of the Aggies.

An All-Academic Big West selection, Thielges admits the differences in language and syntax have been a test in her adjustment to the hardwood.

"I'd say the most difficult part has been wrapping my head around the plays and lingo because some of the terms are not too familiar to me," Thielges said. "However, my teammates are always there to help me out. Once things started to click, I get some déjà vu and things are starting to come back. Still, it takes a lot of focus because I can get a little lost if I let my mind wander."

One question she's gotten a few times since making the switch is detailing the differences in the Flowers as head coach. And without getting herself into too much trouble, Thielges spoke of those similarities and differences.

"I think one of the best similarities is that both look at the bigger picture when it comes to sports. They both do a great job of relating everything that happens in competition back to life and to learn from those examples to become better people," Thielges said. "I guess I'd say the biggest difference is that he's a lot more vocal and blunt."

So when's she getting those instructions from her Jason on the court, Thielges can rely on having both Tairia and her former softball teammates cheering her on. And in reality, that's not much of a change for the catcher turned power forward.

by Geoffrey Herberg, CSUN Media Relations