Kristina (Bither) Gurney ’09, a Harker Lifer, was a force to be reckoned with on the court and on the pitch, and she will be inducted into Harker’s Athletic Hall of Fame this Saturday before the Homecoming game. She played volleyball and soccer all four years at the upper school, which means she was a member of the dynamite 2007 state finalists team that went 38-5 for the season, ending up NorCal champs and second in the state.
Bither was a natural athlete who played a variety of sports at the lower and middle school level, including volleyball, basketball, soccer and flag football. “She started out mainly as a soccer player but quickly transitioned to volleyball without any difficulty in high school,” said Theresa “Smitty” Smith, who coached the volleyball team. “I remember her as being one of our most fit players who often set and held the pace for the rest of the team. She was a hard worker, a tough kid and a huge part of the 2007 team’s success as one of the outside hitters.”
Harker News is replete with references to Bither‘s contributions to her teams. In February 2006, Evan Barth, then a soccer coach, noted, “Kristina Bither, grade 9, continues to find the back of the net with three goals in league play, and when not scoring, she does a great job setting up her teammates, with two assists so far.” Two months later, Bither was named MVP and all-league first team, having scored a team high of 16 goals.
In January 2007, Bither was named all-league first team in volleyball. A month later, she was back out in front as Harker’s high scorer as soccer season hit its stride. A month later, with 15 goals to her credit, Bither was among the top scorers in the league.
In December 2007, Harker’s girls volleyball team was fighting every step of the way for a shot at the championship. In CCS quarterfinal play against The King’s Academy, Bither, then a junior, was service leader with four aces and racked up 10 kills, including the game-winning kill in game three. The team went on to the championship but succumbed, finishing second in the state, a record for any Harker team at the time.
In fall 2008, during her senior year, Bither again dominated the court, with 10 kills in the team’s first three-game match. The team had solid successes that year, with Bither named all-tournament first team at the Los Gatos Tournament.
The team finished that year with a 9-12 record, but Bither held the top kill record in the league with 4.7 kills per game and was fourth in the league in digs per game. She was named to The Mercury News All-Star team as an outside hitter, with an honorable mention.
Soccer then ramped up and by March 2009, Bither was noted as a critical player by coach Troy Thiele, who said, “Harker has been led by senior Kristina Bither, who is not only the CCS leading scorer, but also the 23rd leading goal scorer for all girls winter soccer players in the nation!” Bither was named San Francisco Chronicle Athlete of the Week honorable mention for her eight goals in a three-game span in mid-January. According to MaxPreps.com, Bither was ranked 23rd in scoring nationwide in January.
In April, the girls soccer team locked in second place with a 6-2-2 record, and Harker team members garnered 10 of the 28 all-league awards handed out that year. Bither, with 21 goals, was named league MVP of the newly formed Skyline Division of the WBAL, and again made The Mercury News All-Star team with an honorable mention. In mid-April, Bither signed papers to compete in volleyball for Villanova.
Thiele was impressed by Bither’s skills, noting that, “Kristina was probably the purest athlete to ever be an upper school student (at least in the time I have been here), male or female. She was a Division 1 volleyball player, but easily could have been a Division 1 soccer player if that is where she had put her heart,” he said.
“She literally won games for us single-handedly,” Thiele added. “The first game I ever coached (I was a mid-year replacement), I did not really know what the team was like, and we were losing by several goals and really had no business being on the field with the other team. In the last 10 minutes of the game, Kristina scored two or three goals all by herself to give us the win. She also dropped back and basically prevented the other team from scoring the tying goal as well.”
Bither joined the Villanova team and had a solid first season, playing in 95 sets, averaging 1.75 digs per set, and reaching a career high of 18 digs in a game vs. Princeton. In 2010, her second year at Villanova, she played in 55 sets, made 70 digs, including two games where she got double digits. She was named a Big East Academic All-Star for the 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. Unfortunately, Bither suffered a back injury, ending her career at Villanova during her second year.
Bither went on to complete a marketing degree at Villanova, then studied at Tufts School of Medicine to become a physician assistant.
Bither looks back on her years at Harker with fondness. “My favorite memory is, of course, when our volleyball team was able to play in the state championship game,” she said. “I will never forget how the entire Harker community rallied behind us. It was also really special to be able to play with my younger sister, Veronica, for one year.
“I am thankful to have had such a close relationship with Coach Smitty, who coached both my Harker and club volleyball teams. I am absolutely a more fearless and resilient person today because of her. I would also like to thank Coach Barth, who always made me feel valued, respected and capable of succeeding.”
Being an active athlete in high school also was helpful in life, Bither noted. “I think I have gained skills in time- and stress-management, as well as important perspectives on how to work well as a team. Now having worked in both the emergency department and operating room settings, I am able to stay calm and function well under pressure, which is a strength I believe came from all of my sports training.
“I enjoyed athletics at Harker because I was able to play on so many different teams and make relationships with a lot of people that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It truly is inspiring to see the successes of so many Harker athletes nowadays!” she added.
Founded in 2018, The Harker School Athletic Hall of Fame honors those who have made outstanding contributions to its athletic program. Candidates for selection exemplified desirable character traits during their years at Harker and beyond, and have distinguished themselves in competition representing Harker, their college or at the professional level. Candidates may also be non-graduates who, through long service to Harker, have distinguished themselves in the field of athletics.