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Kayla Ard

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Three weeks after their season came to an end in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament, the Aggies have a new head women’s basketball coach.

In a press release and via social media, Utah State University announced the hiring of Kayla Ard on Monday. A live interactive stream to formally introduce Ard will be held on Tuesday at 11 a.m. Fans can watch the introduction live on the Mountain West Network via www.utahstateaggies.com/watch.

Ard replaces Jerry Finkbeiner, who took a medical leave of absence just before the 2019-20 campaign began. Shortly after the start of the season, Finkbeiner announced he would not return. He was the head coach for seven years, going 96-123 and guiding USU to the WBI three times. Ben Finkbeiner took over as the interim head coach this past season, and the Aggies went 8-23.

USU Vice President and Director of Athletics John Hartwell made the announcement Monday. Ard will be the school’s ninth head women’s basketball coach in its 32 seasons.

“I am truly blessed, thankful and honored to be the head women’s basketball coach at Utah State University,” Ard said in a press release. “This is a dream come true for me and I cannot thank (USU) President (Noelle) Cockett, John Hartwell and the administration at Utah State enough for putting their trust in me and choosing me to lead this program. The leadership at USU is so strong and Logan is a special place. I felt that the second I stepped on campus and met the people in the athletic department and the community.”

USU became the first 11th-seeded team to win a game in the MW Tournament earlier this month. The Aggies beat sixth-seeded San Diego State, 81-79, in overtime. They almost pulled off a second upset, but let a double-digit lead slip away in the second half, losing to third-seeded Wyoming, 64-59, to conclude the 2019-20 season.

The Aggies enjoyed a win at Boise State in February. The Broncos ended up finishing second in the league in the regular season and won the conference tournament to earn a berth to the NCAA Tournament, which was canceled.

“Utah State athletics has a great tradition of winning and I could not be more fired up to get to work and give the best fans in the country something to be excited about as we make some noise in the Mountain West,” Ard said.

Ard brings 10 years of collegiate experience with her to USU, serving as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Denver, Dayton, Clemson, Troy and Pensacola State. She has coached one WNBA draft pick and 17 players who have competed professionally overseas.

Ard immediately made her mark at Denver as the Pioneers signed the top-ranked recruiting class in the Summit League in her first season, according to ASGR Basketball. She also helped Dayton sign the 19th-ranked recruiting class in the nation in 2016, according to ESPN.

While at Clemson, the Tigers signed six of the top 43 recruits in the nation at their position, according to ESPN. During her time at Troy, the Trojans signed four NJCAA All-Americans and five of the top 31 recruits in the nation at their position.

“When we started the process of hiring a head coach for our women’s basketball program, we were looking for the following qualities: high energy, tireless recruiter, impeccable work ethic, strong basketball knowledge, committed to player development, and a great fit for Utah State and Cache Valley,” Hartwell said in the press release. “We had many qualified candidates that we vetted and/or interviewed, and Kayla Ard distinguished herself as the ideal coach to lead our program going forward.

“Kayla’s passion for the game and her high-energy level are clearly on display in the student-athletes she recruits and coaches. I am excited for our women’s basketball student-athletes to learn and develop under Kayla’s leadership. I am also excited for our women’s basketball fan base to see this exciting brand of basketball. Today is a great day for the future of Utah State women’s basketball.”

Ard comes to Utah State after spending the past three seasons as the associate head coach, recruiting coordinator and offensive coordinator at Denver under Jim Turgeon. Over the past three seasons, the Pioneers have had three-straight non-losing seasons with a 49-43 overall record and a 26-20 mark in the Summit League. Prior to Ard’s arrival at Denver, the Pioneers had suffered through five-consecutive losing seasons, which included single-digit wins in each of their previous four years.

During the 2019-20 season, Ard spent the last 11 games as the team’s interim head coach, leading the Pioneers to a 7-4 record and a No. 3 seed in the Summit League Championships. As interim head coach, Ard led DU to its first road win of the season with a 91-81 victory at North Dakota, and six straight wins to end the regular season. That six-game winning streak for Denver was its longest in eight years.

“I’m really happy for Kayla being named the new head coach at Utah State because she is deserving,” Turgeon said in the press release. “She is the hardest worker I have ever worked with, and she will bring a winning attitude to the program. Kayla is talented in all the areas of coaching, but she excels in teaching offense. Aggie fans will be excited to watch her high-scoring teams play.”

Ard helped Madison Nelson earn first-team all-Summit League honors as she set program records for single-season points (592), rebounds (343) and scoring average (19.7). Nelson also became the first player in Denver’s Division I era to average a double-double with 19.7 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. Ard also mentored Lauren Loven to second-team all-league honors as she finished her career second in conference history with 341 made 3-pointers and 832 3-point attempts, and eighth all-time in scoring with 1,453 points.

During the 2018-19 season, Denver posted an 18-14 overall record and a 10-6 mark in the Summit League. It was the program’s most overall and league wins in seven seasons. Denver also advanced to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament for the second time in school history and secured its first-ever postseason win with an 83-75 victory at New Mexico in the opening round.

Before Denver, Ard spent two seasons at Dayton, where she served as the assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. Prior to her time at Dayton, Ard was an assistant coach at Clemson for two years. Ard also coached at Troy under Chanda Rigby, whom she followed from Pensacola State before the 2012-13 season.

A native of Hammond, Louisiana, Ard was highly recruited out of Loranger High School after averaging more than 26.0 points a game, earning all-district honors three consecutive years and leading her team to three final four appearances, including a state championship in 2000.

Ard’s collegiate career began at the junior college level at Chipola (Florida) Junior College. After playing one season there, she transferred to Southeastern Louisiana, where she played from 2004-06 and was an all-Southland Conference selection in 2005.

Ard graduated from Southeastern Louisiana in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in general studies. She then earned her master’s degree in psychology from the University of Phoenix in 2013.

Shawn Harrison is the sports editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at sharrison@hjnews.com or 435-792-7233.

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