The road to D2 (#GoNNUCrusaders)
Given the chance to open up about her journey to NNU—to reflect on her experience of how God brought her from playing and coaching basketball at a Division 1 level to administrating at a small, Christian, Division 2 university—was more difficult than she expected. In her past were challenges that are not easy to revisit. Emotions that are not convenient to feel again. Memories that revive so clearly she could practically smell and taste and touch them. And yet, to hear her talk of the transformation that’s occurred in her life as a result of her time at NNU, it’s clear the journey has been worth it.
“Looking back, it was a God thing I ended up at NNU,” says Kelli Lindley, associate athletic director at Northwest Nazarene University [NOTE: As of March 16, 2015, Kelli serves as NNU's Director of Athletics]. Lindley came to NNU in 2001 when she accepted her first head coaching position for the women’s basketball team. As a standout athlete in high school, Lindley received multiple offers to play ball for Division 1 schools and chose the one with the highest level of competition available—Washington State University.
At WSU, Lindley was challenged both athletically and personally. “The main focus of my college experience was on my sport and athletic achievements; my identity was very much wrapped up in my performance on the court, so my self-esteem would go up and down based on how I played. Those four years in college were the hardest years of my life because I went from a safe home to a place where I was challenged on every level. I didn’t feel connected with most of my teammates and it was often very lonely. I really had no choice but to cry out to God. Thankfully, those four years ended up being a time of great growth spiritually for me.”
"I don't think there's a lot of universities where there is an emphasis on transformation and growing in your faith. NNU really is a unique, wonderful Christian school."
After finishing her bachelor’s degree, Lindley found herself as the assistant coach at Gonzaga University, another Division 1 school, even though she didn’t think coaching was the direction she wanted to go. During her three years as an assistant she discovered she loved the skill development and teaching of players. When she found out about the job opening at NNU “it seemed like a good opportunity to step into a head coaching position and make a career move that would be a stepping stone to bigger schools.”
What Lindley didn’t realize was that her plans were about to change. Speaking of her first moments on campus she said, “It was like a breath of fresh air. It was so drastically different—it was like coming home. My first week I helped Roger [Schmidt, retiring head coach] run a basketball camp and work with some student-athletes. It was so refreshing to be able to talk about more than just basketball and to just love on them.” Having never attended Christian schools growing up, Lindley had never experienced this kind of environment.
“I had a clear sense that while athletics was at high level here and it was important you do well, it was also important student-athletes grow in their faith and do well academically. There was an emphasis on loving each other and encouraging those who were struggling. It felt comfortable to be able to pray with student-athletes and talk about more than their sport.”
As head coach, Lindley led her team to post-season appearances in six of her twelve years, including NCAA Division 2 National Tournament bids in 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2013. After only the second National Tournament appearance she was positioned neatly to advance her career as a coach and was considering positions at other institutions. It was at that time Lindley realized “I was happy, content and doing what I loved. If I left I would really miss this Christian home and place that’s been a second family to me.”
“I’ve really enjoyed and fallen in love with NNU’s mission of transforming the whole person. There’s a depth to what we try to do here. Our goal is to create a balance so student-athletes grow in every area of their lives—first and foremost that they grow to love the Lord more.”
“NNU has played such a role in my own spiritual growth and development. As I’ve tried to live out the mission for my student-athletes so they can see it, it’s transformed me. There’s no bigger mirror than when you have young adults looking at you asking why you do what you do. It’s in many ways brought out the best in me because I don’t want to let these young people down.”
Now as associate athletic director who oversees NCAA compliance for the Crusaders, Lindley has expanded her reach to every NNU athlete and many prospective students [NOTE: As of March 16, 2015, Kelli serves as NNU's Director of Athletics]. In that role she shares NNU’s heart on a daily basis with student-athletes. “I want them to see what NNU offers may not be the most elite. It may not have the most resources or money. But what it lacks in wealth and materials, it makes up in a profound and unique quality—making eternal significance.”
“I don’t think there’s a lot of universities where there is an emphasis on transformation and growing in your faith. NNU really is a unique, wonderful Christian school.”