Cleveland State announced on Thursday that it has extended the contract of women’s basketball coach Chris Kielsmeier, who in just four seasons has already become one of the most successful coaches in program history. Kielsmeier’s contract will now run through the 2026-27 season.
The school’s board of trustees approved the revised contract at their May 19th meeting.
“I’m so thankful for the belief and support that President Bloomberg and Athletic Director Scott Garrett have shown in not only me, but our entire program throughout my time at Cleveland State,” Kielsmeier said in a release. “I love being a part of the Cleveland State family and the amazing people that are associated with the University and the Athletic Department. I am fortunate to work with an incredible staff and a talented roster of student-athletes on a daily basis, and I can’t wait to continue on this Viking journey.”
It’s hard to overstate the trajectory that the program during Kielsmeier’s tenure, relative to the balance of its existence.
Entering the 2018-19 season, Cleveland State could best be described as an unremarkable program that had rare brushes with greatness. Kielsmeier’s predecessor, Kate Peterson Abiad, put together a nice run that included four straight seasons of at least 19 wins from 2007-11 led by all-time leading scorer Kailey Klein. The stretch that also included the only two Horizon League titles and NCAA Tournament bids in CSU history, though the team’s consistency vanished about when Klein did.
In the program’s 30 years prior to Peterson Abiad, the Vikings finished with a winning record just eight times, most of those occasions coming early on when CSU largely played an Ohio-based schedule that included the likes of Oberlin, Lorain County Community College, and John Carroll as regular opponents. The team once went nine straight seasons (1984-93) with single-digit win totals, and since joining the old North Star Conference in 1988-89, had made nine appearances in the semifinals of their various league tournaments.
History is one of the most powerful forces in college sports, but in a relatively brief time at the wheel, Kielsmeier has already managed to turn a lot of that past on its head.
The Vikings went 21-11 in 2019-20 and 23-9 this past season, doubling the number of 20-win seasons CSU has experienced, and the team has also added three consecutive conference semifinals appearances, representing 25 percent of the program’s new total. In March, they advanced to their league’s title game for the fourth time ever.
At the end of a COVID-stifled 2020-21 season, the Vikings defeated Manhattan, Stetson, and Portland on consecutive days to win the championship of the Women’s Basketball Invitational, the first postseason tournament title in school history. CSU returned to the WBI final at the end of the 2021-22 season but lost the trophy to Saint Mary’s.
All of that has been supplemented by a healthy dose of individual and off-court success as well. Former Viking Mariah White offered plenty from both categories as a two-time Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year and the winner of the 2021 Arthur Ashe Jr. Female Sports Scholar of the Year award. Destiny Leo and Savanna Crockett have also won prominent conference awards, while Kielsmeier-coached players have made the Dean’s List 47 times.
“We are so excited by the positive trajectory of the women’s basketball program under Coach Kielsmeier’s leadership here at Cleveland State over the last four years,” Vice President and Director of Athletics Scott Garrett said in the school’s announcement. “He has built a strong staff of mentors that bring energy into developing the young women in our program on a day-to-day basis. I look forward to working with Chris as we strive towards winning a Horizon League championship in the near future, while continuing to deploy innovative strategies that provide our student-athletes a transformational experience during their time here at CSU.”
His record so far at CSU is 66-43, which already places him among select company in Vikings history. The program’s first two coaches, Jane Pease and Louise Furjanic, went a combined 59-48 over modest tenures from 1973-80, but Kielsmeier is the only leader since then to win more games than they lost. He’s presently the fourth-winningest coach in the Vikings record book, with second place (Alice Khol’s 115) well within reach during the term of the freshly-updated contract.
Kielsmeier came to Cleveland in 2018 as a hire of Garrett’s predecessor, Mike Thomas, following long and successful runs in both Division II and Division III. At DIII’s Howard Payne from 2000-08 he went 179-44 overall, culminating in a 33-0 national championship season in 2007-08. From there, he moved on to Wayne State College in Nebraska and rolled up a 237-72 record from 2008-18 to become the winningest coach in Wildcats history. Along the way, Wayne State had seven 20-win seasons, won six Northern Sun Conference regular season or tournament titles, and earned five bids to the NCAA’s Division II Tournament.
If that track record is any indication, the next five years might be even more fun for Vikings fans than the last four.