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story.lead_photo.caption Sytia Messer, a former Waldo Lady Bulldog and Arkansas Lady Razorback, was on Kim Mulkey’s bench when the Baylor Lady Bears held on to beat Notre Dame 82-81 Monday night before more than 20,000 fans in Tampa, Fla. It was the highest attendance in over 15 years for the NCAAs.

WACO, TX - Coming out of the basketball hotbed of tiny Waldo, Ark., Sytia Messer had her pick of colleges, including a Louisiana Tech program that had reached the national championship game in 1994.

That’s where Messer first got to know Kim Mulkey, who was an assistant coach with the Lady Techsters at the time.

“My hometown is not that far from Louisiana Tech, so she recruited me out of high school,” said Messer, now in her sixth year as a Baylor assistant coach under Mulkey. “I remember my family talking about how good of a basketball player she was. And two, I remember the pigtails. When Louisiana Tech comes to the house and recruits you, that’s pretty amazing. She came, and I remember I was like, ‘Wow, Kim Mulkey is at my game!!”

Mulkey says Messer is “one of the best players to ever come out of the state of Arkansas.” But, she couldn’t convince her to leave Arkansas, because “I wanted to go to Arkansas and help build a dynasty, where Louisiana Tech was already a dynasty. I wanted to make Arkansas a Final Four team,” she said.

At 5-foot-8, Messer scored 1,379 career points and pulled down 603 rebounds as one of the best rebounding guards in program history. She was a two-time team captain and fulfilled prophecy, leading the Lady Razorbacks to the 1998 Final Four while earning Most Outstanding Player honors at the NCAA West Regional.

Hanging up her sneakers, Messer returned to finish up her bachelor’s degree at Arkansas in 2000 and started her coaching career as an assistant at Arkansas State. She also had coaching stops at Memphis and Georgia Tech before being named the head coach at Tennessee Tech on Aug. 17, 2009, when she was 32 years old and just nine years out of college.

Messer, who compiled a three-year record of 54-41 at the Division I school in Cookeville, Tenn., said she loved being a head coach.

Returning to Georgia Tech, she was the Yellow Jackets’ associate head coach before Coach Mulkey came calling again, this time with an offer to join the Baylor Lady Bear staff.

“I followed her career as a player and as a coach. And when I had an opening on my staff, I reached out to her, hoping she would come to Baylor and be a part of our program,” Mulkey said. “She is a great recruiter and a great role model, and we are blessed to have her at Baylor.”

This time, Sytia said yes.

Since coming to Baylor, she has been a part of four Elite Eights and last year’s Sweet 16 with a five-year record of 167-17. And as recruiting coordinator, she’s helped the Lady Bears land No. 1 classes nationally in 2015 and ‘17.

“I am one of the people who just love recruiting,” Sytia said. “I miss it when I’m away from my team here and the coaches. But, I love going and meeting young ladies and seeing where they come from and see how they can be a fit at Baylor. That’s important to me, because not everybody is a fit. So, going and meeting their families and academic counselors and high school coaches, I really like it. And I always tie it in with a good meal some sightseeing. You can’t beat that.”

At 41, Messer said she is “comfortable here,” working for Baylor and Mulkey. If another opportunity came up, though, “I know God would put me where He wants me when the timing is right.”

“The thing that I love is the opportunity to coach high, elite athletes and work with Kim Mulkey every day on a day-to-day basis and being close to home. Baylor has been a blessing for me,” she said.

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