Cullowhee, N.C. – Former associate head coach at High Point University and a 20-year NCAA coaching veteran, Heather Kearney has been named head women’s basketball coach at Western Carolina University announced today by Director of Athletics, Randy Eaton. With experience at five different NCAA institutions in a variety of coaching roles, Kearney becomes the 12th women’s basketball head coach at WCU all-time.
At this time there will not be a formal press conference due to the recruiting calendar and countable days left for Kearney and her staff to get on the recruiting trail. More information will be released in the coming weeks about a time for fans and media to interact with Kearney and other members of her coaching staff.
“I’m blessed and thankful for the opportunity Dr. Alison Morrison-Shetlar, Randy [Eaton], and Stacey [Miller] have provided me with to lead the Catamount Women’s Basketball program,” Kearney admitted. “When I first came on campus, I felt the true family atmosphere and knew that WCU was a special place and the place for me. I am excited to get to work on building a women’s basketball program that reflects the values and beliefs of our amazing institution.”
Kearney comes to Cullowhee after spending the past two years as the associate head coach at High Point University, holding the same position at both Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State the prior nine seasons. Her experience also includes 10 years at NCAA Division II-member, California University of Pennsylvania, with a season as the program’s head coach.
“I understand many in Catamount Nation were concerned about the length of time we spent on the head women’s basketball coach search. But hopefully our fans understand that we were not looking for just a good coach; we were looking for a championship caliber coach, and we found that in Heather Kearney,” said Eaton. “Heather brings a vast amount of experience at the mid-major level in the southeastern United States, and specifically has coached, and successfully flourished in the Southern Conference. I think Heather is the piece we have been missing.”
As the top assistant coach at High Point the past two seasons, Kearney helped guide the Panthers to a school-record 22 victories, a runner-up finish in the Big South Conference, and a bid into the WNIT field in 2018-19, improving on a fourth-place finish and a tournament semifinal appearance the previous season. The 2017-18 Panther team recorded a winning season for the first time in four years for High Point.
While at both High Point and her previous stop at Coastal Carolina, Kearney was charged with handling the defensive aspects of the game including calling plays. Last season using Kearney’s up-tempo defense, the Panthers led the Big South Conference and ranked 14th in the NCAA in steals per game which was also a big part of HPU also ranking 16th nationally in turnovers forced per contest. In 2016-17, the Chanticleers ranked inside the top 50 nationally in team steals (37th) and forced turnovers per game (49th), while also leading the Big South in the same two categories prior to Coastal’s move to the Sun Belt Conference.
Kearney has also handled offensive coordinator duties during her coaching career, doing so during her five seasons on the bench in Boone, N.C., at Appalachian State. In each of her first four seasons at App, at least three players coached by Kearney averaged double-digit scoring and the aggressive, fast-paced Mountaineer offense had at least one player rank among the SoCon’s top-five scorers for four-straight seasons including the scoring champion in 2012-13 in Anna Freeman.
As the associate head coach, she was a part of helping turn around a Mountaineer women’s basketball program, producing four, 20+ win seasons at a school that had just one winning season the previous 12 years. Among those four 20-win seasons were two of the top single-season victory tallies with 27 victories in 2011-12 and 25 wins in 2010-11, both ending with Southern Conference regular season championships and Sweet 16 appearances in the WNIT. She was also a part of ASU winning the WBI Tournament Championship in 2009-10.
While in Boone, Kearney was a part of recruiting and coaching 11 All-SoCon selections including the SoCon Player of the Year in 2010-11, Sam Ramirez, and Freeman in 2011-12. Additionally, she coached three SoCon All-Freshman team honorees including the 2011-12 Freshman of the Year, Maryah Syndnor.
Originally from Harrisville, Pa., Kearney was a four-year letter winner and a team captain at Slippery Rock University, graduating with a degree in sport management in 1999. It was at her alma mater in 1999 that she began her coaching career as a graduate assistant, earning a Master’s degree in counseling & educational psychology in 2003.
As a player, Kearney helped lead Slippery Rock to an NCAA Division II East Regional Championship in the 1995-96 season. The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West Rookie of the year in 1996 and a two-time, first-team All-PSAC selection, Kearney closed her playing career as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,760 points over 95 career games (18.5 ppg) while finishing second in career rebounds (949). She was inducted into the Slippery Rock Hall of Fame in 2010.
Kearney’s first full-time coaching position came at California University of Pennsylvania in 2000 where she spent nine total seasons as an assistant coach and later associate head coach from 2004-08 before eventually taking over as the head coach for the 2008-09 season. A seven-time PSAC West champion during her time as an assistant coach, Cal U made eight straight NCAA tournament appearances with Kearney on the bench including winning the 2004 NCAA Division II National Championship.
As the head coach, Kearney led the Vulcans to an NCAA Elite Eight appearance after winning the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional. Her squad posted a final D-II national ranking of No. 4 while boasting a 29-5 overall record that included a 17-0 mark at home, netting her PSAC Coach of the Year accolades.
Western Carolina returns eight players from last year’s squad with four underclassmen including the SoCon Sports Media Association (SCSMA) Freshman of the Year, Jewel Smalls.
What They’re Saying About Heather Kearney:
"I am elated for both Heather and the Western Carolina Women's Basketball community. Heather has an advanced basketball mind and leads with integrity, love, and grit; a perfect formula to success. I'm grateful for an integral part she played in our success at High Point for the last two years. Although I'll miss working side by side with her, WCU got it right by naming her at the helm! I can't wait to follow the Catamounts' transformation during her tenure."
-- DeUnna Hendrix, Miami of Ohio Head Women's Basketball Coach
“Congratulations to the Catamounts on hiring a fantastic Head Women’s Basketball Coach. Heather Kearney is a standout among her peers, and she will build a program of excellence at Western Carolina University.” – Sandy Hatfield Clubb, Senior Partner, The Pictor Group
"Western Carolina hired a gem when they decided to hire Coach Heather Kearney. Heather is one of the brightest coaches in the game. She has a great ability to connect and motivate student-athletes all while being an excellent strategist and teacher of the game of basketball. I have no doubt that Western Carolina’s women’s basketball team will be of championship caliber in the near future. I look forward to following all of Coach Kearney’s and WCU’s success."- Jaida Williams, Coastal Carolina Head Women’s Basketball Coach