Amarillo ISD standouts, Tinner, Smith, sign to Division I basketball program’s
Amarillo High’s Zayla Tinner and former Tascosa Lady Rebel Ka’Lia Smith signed to play for Division I women‘s basketball programs Wednesday. [Tom Carver & Provided photo]
A pair of Amarillo ISD standouts signed their national letters of intent to play at the Division I women’s college basketball level on Wednesday afternoon.
Amarillo High senior Zayla Tinner signed to continue her career at the University of Southern California (USC), while former Tascosa Lady Rebel and South Plains College forward, Ka’lia Smith inked with the University of Texas Arlington.
Smith, a 2018 Tascosa graduate, was a four-year letterman for the Lady Rebels, an All-State selection and two-time District 2-6A MVP.
After sitting out her first year at South Plains College with an injury, the 6-foot-1 powerful forward was a force for a dominant Lady Texan team that went 32-1, winning the Western Junior College Athletic Conference, as well as the Region 5 title before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Smith played in all 33 games, starting 22 of those contests, averaging 9.8 points a game with 5.6 boards.
“It means a ton to me to be signing with UTA,” Smith said. “In high school I didn’t think about playing college much. People told me I had Division I potential, and being able to now play college basketball, and sign with UTA makes sense. It was crazy how much South Plains helped me on and off the court. I learned how to manage my time with academics and athletics. SPC slowed it all down for me.”
Ka’Lia Smith meets with the UTA coaching staff when she committed to the Lady Mavs during a Zoom call last week. [Provided photo]
One thing that led Smith to UTA, is the relationship she has built with Lady Mavs coach and former Texas Tech Lady Raider great Krista (Kirkland) Gerlich.
Gerlich’s Texas Panhandle roots gives Smith a sense of comfort heading hours from home.
“UTA feels like home away from home,” Smith said. “I know I can succeed there. The coaching staff is great, and I feel comfortable playing for coach Gerlich. They’ve watched me since high school. They know my strength and weaknesses, they know my high school coach (Betsie Baughman). UTA a good place for me.”
Gerlich, a Spearman graduate and former West Texas Lady Buffs head coach, echoed Smith’s comment.
“I think it says a lot that says a lot when you can connect in personal way,” said Gerlich, who is 121-94 in seven seasons as the Lady Mavs coach. “Ka’Lia needs familiarity. We know her coaches at Tascosa, she’ll know people here and that gives her stability.
“We’ve also seen her tools and potential. I’m glad she got experience at SPC. We love her game and post presence. I think she can be a dominant player in this league.”
West Coast bound
Tinner has been one of the most highly touted recruits in the Texas Panhandle over the past four years.
After weighing multiple Division I offers, Tinner says USC was the place that she felt was the best fit for her.
“It was a special visit to USC,” Tinner said. “I really liked the vibe of the team, and coach (Mark) Trakh is very similar to my high school coach Jeff Williams at AHS. It was so relieving to know what’s in store for your future. I’m just ready to get out there and get started.”
USC women’s coach Mark Trakh added a comment about Tinner after she signed Wednesday on the Lady Trojans Twitter account.
“Zayla will use her athleticism and determination to make her mark at USC.,” Trakh said. “We are extremely looking forward to having a great person and athlete in Zayla join us. Welcome to the Trojan Family.”
Tinner’s resume speaks for itself.
The 2020 Press Pass Girls Player of the Year helped lead the Lady Sandies to back-to-back Class 5A state championships in 2018-2019.
AHS never won less than 30 games with Tinner on the floor, going an incredible 150-11 in those four seasons.
She was named the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches 5A Player of the Year as a junior, and named the Texas Girls Coaches Association 5A Player of the Year this season, on top of being a four-time All-State selection.
“It feels so good for this to be a reality,” said Tinner, who finished with 2,233 career points and 749 career rebounds. “I never knew where I’d be growing up. To know what we achieved at Amarillo High, and what I’ve been able to achieve, and just to get a chance to play college basketball is just so special.”