El Paso, TEXAS -

When you think of UTEP women's hoops over the last few years, the first name that comes to mind may be the school's all time leading scorer Kayla Thornton, or the teams most successful coach, Keitha Adams.
 

For five years Kristine Vitola was a key part to the most successful four year run in program history going 96-36.

I don't remember the first feeling of how it was when I stepped on the court," Vitola said. "I think this last year I kind of took over all of that beginning, you know. When I was coming here, coach promised me a lot of playing time as a freshmen and I think that's what happen my freshmen year."

From Riga, Latvia Vitola came more than 5,000 miles to play college basketball in a place that reminded her nothing of her home.

"Oh, they are completely different, I mean there's just day and night you know, we have all these trees and water, ocean, seas, you know beaches and you come here and it's all sand storms, you know," Vitola says with a smile. "They are just completely different places, they really are."

At 6'4, Vitola is just one of three players in program history to have more than 900 points, 600 rebounds, and 100 blocks. Sadly though, despite all of her accomplishments on the court, her parents never saw her live and in an UTEP uniform.

"They've never been here," Vitola  explains.  "My mom doesn't fly and for my dad and my brother to fly out, first of all they have language issues. They don't want to learn, I'm like "Alright", you know. But it's really expensive and my family doesn't have that kind of money to just spend it and come visit me whenever they want but you know but hopefully one day I can get them over here to show them what it was to be here."

Last year Vitola tore an ACL and thought her career would end on a sour note. Fortunately, the NCAA granted her a 5th year of eligibility that she was able to take advantage of to help UTEP nearly cut down the nets in the WNIT Finals against Rutgers.

"That was just amazing, you know I've actually recently looked at my Facebook pictures from some of my freshmen and sophomore years and you look at the stands and there is maybe I don't know 100 people there, 200 people there and the stands look empty," Vitola said.  "Then I go to the pictures right now, the Senior year and I'm like "Wow look at that" you know, so that's pretty amazing to see that El Paso grow on you, grow on the UTEP Women's basketball as a whole, it was really amazing."

Next up for Vitola is the hope she will get the chance to play pro ball in Europe. After five years in El Paso and at UTEP though, she says are memories that will last a lifetime.