Women's Basketball

Graduation marks important milestone in Coleman’s journey with UTSA Women’s Basketball

by Sean Cartell

SAN ANTONIO – Elyssa Coleman made headlines this past Sunday when the redshirt junior forward scored a career-high 23 points for the UTSA women’s basketball program in its 24-point victory against UTEP. 

For Coleman, who graduates from UTSA on Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and has overcome more than her fair share of adversity, her growth and impact will be felt far and wide beyond the basketball court.  

Coleman was a member of Karen Aston’s first team as the Roadrunners’ head coach in 2021-22. She’s helped establish and promote the culture of a program that won just two games the season before Aston’s arrival to one that, at 5-3, is off to its best eight-game start since 2012-13. 

“Elyssa, making the commitment to come here and help us build this program and move the needle for this program, I can’t be any more appreciative of any player,” Aston said. “She, in particular, has struggled with injuries and struggled with a lot of different things, but she’s stayed the course and stayed committed to me and my vision. I can’t say enough about what she’s meant not only to the program, but to me personally.” 

Coleman was a highly touted player coming out of Atascocita High School and espnW ranked her the No. 12 forward in the class of 2020. Fittingly, she hails from a town called Humble, Texas. 

Coleman originally signed with Aston at the University of Texas, where Aston served as the head coach from 2012-20. Due to injury, she did not play for the Longhorns in the 2020-21 campaign before transferring away from the program. 

“Coach Aston and I met my junior year of high school,” Coleman said. “Once I got into the transfer portal, she immediately called me and was recruiting me to come here. I felt like we already had that connection and I could already tell she was a really genuine person, so I followed her over here.”

Before ever setting foot on campus in San Antonio, Coleman had already experienced a great deal of adversity. She tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) her sophomore year of high school. The end of her senior year of high school and the start of her freshman year of college came at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and, in her first week at the University of Texas, Coleman tore her other ACL. Despite all of those challenges, she was never deterred. 

“She’s had this string of knee injuries that has slowed her progress down,” Aston said. “She’s been through tough times and I’m sure there were times she thought she couldn’t do this anymore, but she did. She’s just got something in her that a lot of people don’t necessarily see; they just see whether the ball goes in the basket. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t, but I see something different. She has a competitive spirit.” 

Coleman, now 70 games into her UTSA career, attributes much of her growth to the obstacles she has traversed in her life. 

“Coming back from that, it just teaches you perseverance,” Coleman said. “I got stronger mentally, I think that was the biggest thing. Obstacles don’t seem as big to me because that’s a long journey with a year-long injury. I take more things with a grain of salt. I really tapped into my faith, just put my head down and worked.”

When she arrived at UTSA, Aston left it to her first team to come up with the terms and phrases that she intends to use throughout her entire tenure leading the Roadrunners. Coleman has been a major influence on reinforcing the culture to her teammates. 

“I just try to use those terms every day and model them for our team on the court,” she said. “When she [Aston] brought me here, her goal for me, since I knew what she wanted more than any other player, was to be a second voice for her on the court.” 

According to her coach, Coleman’s leadership role has been as impactful to her team as anything she contributes on the court. 

“Now that she’s three years into it, I have freshmen who call her the mom,” Aston said. “She’s really taken our young guys under her wing. That’s the growth and maturity that you’re looking for from a player. That’s what makes me most proud as a coach, she’s now someone our younger players can lean on.”

Coleman can provide an experienced voice to her teammates because she’s been there every step of the way, from building the foundation to watching the program’s steady ascent. 

“Genuinely seeing the whole 180 is a really cool experience,” she said. “Every time we win games, whether they’re really big wins or we come back from a big deficit – which we’ve already done this year – I think about how it never would have happened when I first got here. Those would have been totally different outcomes.” 

Despite having the opportunity to play for traditional powers at the Power 5 level, Coleman embraces her role of helping blaze a trail for the Roadrunners’ program for years to come. 

“I feel like you’re more free to play, which I think any athlete wants to do,” Coleman said. “We still have the pressures of winning, but you know that you can set that record or you can establish that goal.” 

In an era that sees collegiate student-athletes transferring regularly, and sometimes multiple times through a career, UTSA’s team eschews that trend. Every member of the 2022-23 Roadrunners’ squad with remaining eligibility returned to the roster this season. 

“I like stability,” Coleman said. “It’s easier to have stability if you enjoy and love your coaches and your coaches love you. And your teammates love you. It was just cool to see that nobody transferred last year and I think that’s just all props to our coaching staff and the school rallying behind us.” 

Aston, who herself places a high value on loyalty, has appreciated Coleman’s commitment to the UTSA program. 

“I think sticking to something and staying committed is a rarity in our profession now,” Aston said. “It just bodes well for her future. She has been through tough times both personally and basketball wise. She gets up and comes back to work the next day. That’s life; it’s all about ups and downs and you have to get up and figure out how to do your job the next day. She understands how to roll up her sleeves and do her job.” 

Coleman has NCAA eligibility to compete the remainder of this season and all of next season. In January, she begins her Master’s in Public Administration. She hopes to continue playing basketball professionally following her time at UTSA and then pursue a career in human resources with a focus on diversity and inclusion. 

“I didn’t grow up with the most, but my whole community didn’t grow up with the most either,” Coleman said. “It was a community. If I can help other people the way people helped me, that’s what I want to do.” 

When she turns the tassel on Saturday, Coleman will be filled with the same immense pride in her university that she feels on a daily basis. She’s been an important architect in helping build a successful basketball program but, from the start, it has always felt like home. 

“I love UTSA,” Coleman said. “Anytime anybody asks me how school is going, I’m like, ‘I love it here.’ I think the biggest difference from a Power 5 school to UTSA is that everybody is more connected and everybody knows each other. I think that everybody genuinely cares for each other here.”