Van Buren-native Erin Gatling always dreamed of being a Razorback. It was a long journey, but five years after starting her collegiate basketball career in Hattiesburg, Miss., she was able to achieve her lifelong goal of stepping onto the court at Bud Walton Arena as a member of the University of Arkansas starting lineup.
Born and raised in Van Buren, Ark., Gatling grew up a huge Razorback fan with the ultimate ambition of playing basketball for the University of Arkansas. Her path first started at Southern Mississippi, where she spent the first two years of her collegiate career.
After playing 56 games there, including 15 starts, Erin decided to transfer. Not wanting to sit out a season, she was looking at the Division II level, and was on the verge of committing to Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. That was when Arkansas Coach Tom Collen got a hold of her. Gatling ended up at Arkansas, but would have to sit out her first season due to NCAA transfer rules.
“I couldn’t have sat out that season anywhere else in the country,” Gatling said. “It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done, having to watch the games and know you can’t contribute. But now I’m 45 minutes away from home. My parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins are at every game. That’s really cool. I met so many people that still live close and can come watch me play. Being a Razorback in this state, you are a celebrity, because that’s all this state has. It is so much fun to play in front of that crowd.”
A natural point guard, Gatling stepped into a backup spot in that role, first as a practice player, and then behind starter Calli Berna this season. Gatling took to that role and gave the Razorbacks valuable minutes off the bench.
“No one wants to be a backup ideally,” Gatling explained. “But I realized early on that might be my role for a while. I’ve never been the tallest, fastest, or strongest, but I’m always going to work hard. If that was my role, I was going to be the best I could be. Calli’s done a great job, she needs to be on the court, and we work really well together. Whatever my role is, I’ll really embrace it.”
With Berna playing extensively at point guard, Gatling played sporadic minutes throughout non-conference play. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks experimented with redshirt senior Kelsey Hatcher and freshman Dominique Wilson at the shooting guard spot, with neither player retaining a firm grasp on the spot. Looking for a spark, Coach Collen turned to someone he knew would give their all for the program, and gave Gatling her first start at UA in a home game versus LSU on January 10.
“No one on our team would challenge my decision to start Erin,” Collen explained. “I don’t think there’s anybody on our team that has a bigger heart. She’s a Razorback through and through. She is the epitome of everything you want in a player in terms of her love of the program and her dedication. She’s always longed for the opportunity. She has certainly had playing time and had some good moments, but never the opportunity to start. I felt like if we’re going to go into a battle where the game and the season is on the line, I want to go with somebody who cares about this program. She earned the right to keep starting and she showed how much she cared by stepping out there.”
With Arkansas opening conference play 0-2, the team needed a strong performance against the Tigers. After practice the day before, Coach Collen informed Gatling that she would start the game. While she kept it together during their conversation, she described the emotion as “doing cartwheels on the inside.”
“It’s been my dream for my whole life, and to start as a Razorback even succeeds that,” Gatling said. “It was great. I’m started many games before, so I’m used to that role. I’ve always been a confident player, and I was just looking forward to the opportunity.”
After waiting her whole life to step onto the floor in that spot, Gatling certainly was not going to let the opportunity go to waste. On the first Arkansas possession, she knocked down a three pointer, which was just an indication of what was to come. Gatling added two more three pointers, and scored a career high 14 points, sparking the Razorbacks to their first conference win.
“I got the ball in the perfect spots, and I just had to make the shots,” Gatling explained. “To have that opportunity was huge for me. Hitting the first one gave me some confidence and my teammates were behind me the whole way.”
Gatling has continued to hold down a starting spot, and gives Arkansas two strong ball handers in the backcourt. As her final season winds down, Gatling wants to finish strong and make an impact on both the team and the Razorback fan base.
After exhausting her collegiate eligibility, Gatling wants to start a career in a related field.
After earning her degree in exercise science, she will start as a graduate assistant for women’s basketball strength coach Todd Barbour. She will pursue a career in collegiate strength and conditioning, hoping to make a difference in the growth of the program in women’s sports.