Head Coach Kellie Harper directed her 2008-09 Lady Catamounts to its third straight Southern Conference Tournaments finals, in her fifth year at the helm of the Western Carolina women's basketball program. The club drew a third-seed and won three consecutive games, enduring a three overtime thriller with No. 4 seed College of Charleston in the Southern Conference Finals, to win the 2009 Southern Conference Tournament, 101-87.
The 2009 Southern Conference Tournament title was the second in school history and second under Harper. The club also eclipsed 20 wins for the third straight season and has been in postseason play four times, twice in the NCAA Tournament and twice in the WNIT, in Harper's five years as head coach. The 13 seed in the 2009 NCAA Tournament was the highest in school history as the club faced No. 4 seed Vanderbilt in the Raleigh Region in Albuqurquem N.M.
Players under Harper have garnered all-conference selections 11 times in her five year tenure at Western Carolina. Jennifer Gardner and Brooke Johnson were also named Southern Conference Tournament Most Outstanding Players thanks to Harper's direction. Johnson also garnered national attention under Harper's watch being selected as a candidate for the 2009 Lowe's Senior Class Award as well as a finalist for the 2009 V Foundation Award.
Harper also stresses the acdemic side, as her 2007-08 club was ranked fifth in the WBCA Academic Top 25. In 2006-07 the club was ranked 15th.
In 2007-08, Harper became the second winningest coach in Western Carolina women's basketball history with a current record of 76-53. She also guided her team to its second consecutive back-to-back 20-win season; a first for Lady Catamount basketball. The club also won a school record 23 games in regular season play, broke the school record with 25 overall and also tied the school record for most Southern Conference wins with 15.
Harper's 2007-08 squad also defeated a ranked team for the first time in school history, knocking off No. 21/22 Louisville 77-72 in the Minnesota Subway Classic. Western Carolina also got its first win over ACC foe Clemson, defeating the Tigers in Clemson 62-53. Harper's 2007-08 squad reached the finals of the SoCon Tournament for the fourth time in five years. WCU fell 71-59 to No. 1 seed Chattanooga.
Harper has led Western Carolina to postseason appearances in three of her first four years. The club went to its first NCAA Tournament in 2005 and has appeared in the WNIT in 2007 and 2008.
She directed the club to its first-ever Southern Conference regular season title and No. 1 seed in the SoCon Tournament in the 2006-07 season.
Though Western Carolina fell 84-66 to Chattanooga in the finals of the 2007 tournament, Harper and the Lady Catamounts enjoyed postseason play by accepting an invitation to play in the WNIT. Western Carolina won its opening round game 91-63 over East Tennessee State before falling at Virginia Tech 74-64.
Individually, Harper was honored for her continued success at the helm of the Western Carolina women's basketball team by being named the 2007 Southern Conference Coach of the Year both by her peers and the SoCon Sports Media Association. In July of 2007, Western Carolina's women's basketball team was named to the WBCA Academic Honor Roll Team, ranking 15th overall.
As a head coach, Harper has had seven players earn All-SoCon honors and nine different players garnering all-tournament accolades. All told, Harper has been involved with collegiate women's basketball for 13 years with an unprecedented nine trips to the NCAA tournament, missing the Big Dance once with Auburn and three times at Western.
Harper, whose maiden name was Kellie Jolly, is no stranger, and certainly no rookie, to the world of women's basketball. She was a three-year starting point guard for the University of Tennessee Lady Vols and helped guide UT to an unprecedented three consecutive national championships in 1996, 1997 and 1998. Harper quickly instilled that confidence and enthusiasm in the Lady Mocs program when she joined the Chattanooga staff in the summer of 2001.
In three seasons as an assistant at Chattanooga, Harper helped the Mocs to three-consecutive SoCon Championships. She worked primarily with the perimeter players, which included the 2004 Player of the Year and tournament MVP Katasha Brown, two-time tournament MVP and All-Conference guard Miranda Warfield, along with two other all-league players. Prior to her stint at Chattanooga, Harper spent two years on the Auburn staff from 1999-2001, quickly moving from administrative assistant the first year to assistant coach in 2000-01.
As a senior with the Lady Vols in 98-99, Harper earned All-America status as an honorable mention selection by the Associated Press after averaging 7.5 points and 4.1 assists. She was also a second-team All-SEC selection. During her junior year, she averaged 7.6 points and 3.8 assists in guiding the Lady Vols to a perfect 39-0 record. In the national championship game against Louisiana Tech, she poured in a career-high 20 points and hit four of five 3-pointers. She did not miss a free throw during the NCAA Tournament, nailing 14 in a row. Her prowess earned her a spot on the All-Final Four team, plus she was voted by her teammates to receive the Gloria Ray Leadership Award and by the staff to receive the "Coaches Award."
Harper became the team's emotional and inspirational leader in 1997. After missing the first 16 games of her sophomore season due to injury, she returned to help the Lady Vols win the second of their three NCAA Championships during her time with the team. In the NCAA Final against Old Dominion, she dished out a championship-game record 11 assists and was named to the Final Four All-Tournament team with a record 20 assists in two games. She was also selected to the NCAA All-Midwest Regional Tournament team. In 1995-96, she was the co-recipient of the team's "Sixth Player Award." The National Strength and Conditioning Association named Harper as its "Strength and Conditioning Female Athlete of the Year" at Tennessee in 1997 plus, she was selected by the Lady Vols coaching staff for the "Coaches Award" and she was also selected to the NSCA All-America team.
For her career, Harper tallied 894 points and 450 assists. At graduation, she ranked in the school's Top 10 lists in assists, assists per game (3.41), 3-point field goals (99), 3-point field goal attempts (272) and 3-point field goal percentage (37.1). She was drafted in the fourth round of the 1999 WNBA draft by the Cleveland Rockers. A 1999 graduate of Tennessee, Harper received her bachelor's degree in mathematics. She was also a three-time Academic All-SEC honoree.
While a prep at White County High School, Harper become a regular fixture at the Tennessee State Tournament in the early 1990s. Prior to the 1994-95 season, she was named to the Street & Smith's preseason All-America third team. She earned MVP honors at the Roundball Classic in April 1995 as the Pennsylvania All-Stars played the Tennessee All-Stars. She was also named to the all-tournament team in Region 4-AAA and a fourth-team Parade All-American. Harper had abundant experience as an AAU player. Throughout her eight years of playing AAU ball, Harper's teams won three gold medals (1988, 1990 and 1994), three silver medals and had one fifth-place finish. In January 1994, she was awarded the 1992 Merton Baker Memorial Award for the Southeastern Association AAU MVP. She was a five-time All-American and a two-time MVP during her AAU career.
In high school, she was elected Most Athletic and was the recipient of the Daughter's of the American Revolution's Good Citizen Award. She graduated third in her high school class and was a member of the Beta Club. She was born Kellie Jean Jolly on May 3, 1977, in Cookeville, Tenn. She was married to Jon Harper, one of the four current Lady Catamount assistant coaches, on May 15, 1999.