Taking Seattle by Storm

Photo of Alisha Valvanis in Seattle Storm statium. Photo courtesy of Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE

Although former Wildcat and women’s basketball star Alisha Valavanis recently moved to Seattle for her new job as the president and general manager of the Women’s National Basketball Association’s (WNBA) Seattle Storm, she still considers Chico to be home.  

Valavanis, who earned a bachelor’s in journalism in 2000 and a master’s in physical education in 2004 and went on to coach women’s basketball at the University, says the lessons she learned while a student, athlete, and coach had a direct impact on her journey to the Storm’s front office. 

That journey started early. She grew up in Indiana and moved to California when she was 10. 

“In Indiana, they throw you a ball before you can walk,” Valavanis said. “It’s kind of a part of our DNA.”

Indeed, it was basketball that led Valavanis and her twin sister, Alexa Benson- Valavanis (BA, Journalism, ’00) to Chico. A package deal of sorts, they both committed to play for CSU, Chico and legendary head coach Mary Ann Lazzarini in 1995. With Alisha at shooting guard and Alexa running the point, the duo became known as “the Back Court.” 

Valavanis graduated as the team’s all-time leader in three-pointers, sinking 139 in her four years.

“It was phenomenal,” Valavanis said. “I can’t speak highly enough about the opportunity to play at the college level. There is so much more to it than being on the basketball court. It’s about being a part of the University and being a part of the community.”

In 2002, two years after earning her bachelor’s in journalism, she began working as assistant head coach for the University’s women’s basketball team. Under the leadership of Valavanis and head coach Lynne Roberts, the Wildcats made four straight National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship tournament appearances, including a run to the Final Four in 2006. 

That same year, she followed Roberts to University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, where she served as assistant and later associate head coach and was involved with fundraising. She worked with the Golden State Warriors, before the Storm sought her out at her next career stop, University of California, Berkeley, in 2014, where she worked as the assistant athletic director of development. 

Valavanis sits with University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma at a 2014 Storm game. (Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE)

Valavanis sits with University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma at a 2014 Storm game. (Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE)

“I thought it was a really great convergence of my love for basketball, interest in building teams, and the business side and what it takes to drive a business forward,” Valavanis said. “There was a lot of alignment with the group in values and interests.”

At the Storm, her roles include building up the organization’s internal team, delivering on the Storm’s mission to stakeholders and fans, and driving the business forward. With a new head coach and first and third picks in the 2015 WNBA draft, Valavanis hopes to instill into the organization one of her main philosophies—teamwork. 

Based on her personal and athletic experiences, she understands its value on and off the court.  

“I am one of six kids; talk about a team,” Valavanis laughed. “I would say my entire journey up to this point has been about connections and people, and that support is directly responsible for where I am. I hope to offer that in return.”

Her mother and five siblings all currently reside in Chico; according to Valavanis, they fell in love with the town after discovering it during Alisha and Alexa’s basketball careers. Alexa is now president and CEO of the North Valley Community Foundation.

While Alisha still considers Chico home, she is settling into Seattle nicely.

“The Seattle community is very special,” Valavanis said. “I feel that every day when I am engaging with folks in the community. That has helped the transition because they are very much a part of wanting the Storm to be successful.”

Although she expects challenges to come, she looks forward to immersing herself in a career centered on something she deeply believes in. 

“The WNBA and college sports are a platform to make a difference,” Valavanis said. “They are showing the world what is possible, and showing it’s possible to play in professional sports, and showing little boys and girls what it’s like to see women playing at this level. I take very seriously this role and what needs to be done to continue to have this opportunity for women.”

Emily Duran, Chico State Sports Information Intern