Like old times: Powell, Slattery are together again
By Mark Heller
GCU News Bureau
As a senior at Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, Nicole Powell joined the badminton team to work on her conditioning and footwork for basketball. She won her third state title in three years while playing singles.
She played tennis and was state runner-up in doubles.
She was, in the words of former Mountain Pointe track and field coach David Klecka, “goaded” into joining the team and set school records in the shot put and discus and was on state champions in the 4×400 and 4×800 relays.
But Powell was far more well-known for her exploits in basketball: She was a Parade Magazine First-Team All-American (2000), was named the Arizona Player of the Century by The Arizona Republic, was a two-time Arizona Player of the Year and set school career records with 2,478 points and 1,760 rebounds. She then went to Stanford, where she was a three-time All-American, and was a WNBA All-Star and champion.
“She could do anything. Anything,” Klecka said Tuesday, a few hours after Powell was officially introduced as Grand Canyon University’s eighth women’s basketball coach. “You end up wanting and cheering for her to win. You root for her. That’s the way she’s always been at Stanford, professionally — the one everyone on the team likes, confides in, seeks out.”
Among those who got Powell to join the track team was her friend Sara Gorton, also a star Mountain Pointe athlete. Now she’s Sara Slattery, and she and Powell once again share the same educational and athletic address — Slattery is GCU’s cross country coach.
A 20-year friendship has come full circle, and they have a lot of memories to rekindle.
Both appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” page in 2000. Both were elite athletes at a school known for elite athletes. Both had their pick of the litter when it came to Division I college scholarship offers. And both were “terrible” at art.
“They were close, and I think it helped both of them to have each other,” Klecka said. “The pressures they faced, at most high schools most kids wouldn’t know what it’s like or how to act.”
The friendship continued into college. Slattery went to Colorado, and Powell met up with her on visits to Boulder, Colo., or Denver during her Stanford career and professional playing days. Slattery met up with Powell when she was on Stanford’s campus or back in Arizona. Social media helped, given their hectic schedules and travel.
A decade ago, only one of them had an idea about their career path. It wasn’t the one on stage Tuesday afternoon in front of a big crowd inside Grand Canyon Beverage Company on the second floor of the Student Union.
“We never talked about it,” Powell said. “She was much more thoughtful and forward thinking. I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
That changed as Powell’s Hall of Fame playing days drew to a close in 2014, and she spent a year at Gonzaga before becoming a top assistant at Oregon three years ago, where she helped coach Kelly Graves resurrect a sagging program.
“She isn’t going to sleep until she gets what she wants accomplished,” Slattery said.
When Powell was contacted by GCU in late March about interviewing for the position, one of the first people she contacted was Slattery. They talked briefly about old times, and Slattery gave Powell a wide-ranging lowdown of all things Lopes. “(Slattery) said she knew, and when this opened and she saw my name she was like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God.’” Powell said.
Now that they’re reunited, they’ve already talked about the possibility of having the basketball and track teams train with each other. They can hardly believe their good fortune, but it’s not as if the idea of Powell coming to GCU never came up.
A year ago, Slattery was at the Portland, Ore., airport when she randomly crossed paths with Lawrence and Ruth Powell, Nicole’s parents.
“I joked with (Lawrence) that she should coach at GCU,” Slattery said. “Here we are. It’s some kind of divine intervention. You wouldn’t have guessed it 15 years ago.”
Contact Mark Heller at (602) 639-7516 or firstname.lastname@example.org