May 15, 2009
CULLOWHEE, N.C. - Western Carolina Athletic Director Chip Smith today announced Karen Middleton, who has served the past two seasons as an assistant coach at Illinois, as the 10th Head Coach of the Western Carolina Women's basketball program.
"The search for the position of Head Women's Basketball Coach at Western Carolina University went very smoothly," Smith said. "We had a large number of very qualified applicants, which says a great deal about the program and the coaches who have helped shape it."
"From this group of very qualified candidates, Karen Middleton possesses all of the qualities we were seeking in a head coach," Smith continued. "She had a very successful career as a student-athlete at the University of South Carolina. While at Stanford, she was an integral member of a coaching staff that won eight PAC-10 Conference Championships and made several appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including four times as an Elite Eight team. Her background in recruiting for both Stanford and the University of Illinois is exceptional."
"Western Carolina is a great fit for me," Middleton said. "I feel very confident the experiences I have had to compete for championships at the highest level have prepared me to take on this position."
"I am very excited about the team's attitude," Middleton said. "They play so hard and it is a full team effort and about their support and what the coming years are going to bring."
"We are excited to welcome Karen Middleton to Western Carolina University," said Chancellor John Bardo. "She has coaching experience at some of the toughest women's basketball conferences in the nation, including the Big 10, Pac-10 and Southeastern conferences, which will serve her well as the next head coach of the Lady Catamounts. With a reputation as one of the top recruiters in the game, she will be able to continue the tradition of excellence both on and off the court that we have come to expect from our women's basketball program."
While at Illinois, Middleton helped coach the Illini to 20 wins in 2007-08. In addition to leading the Orange and Blue to on-the-court success, Middleton also helped Head Coach Jolette Law and staff, sign the No. 3 recruiting class in the country, according to ESPN HoopGurlz, during the fall of 2008. "Just as important as her athletic expertise is her commitment to academics" Smith said.
"Karen's enthusiasm for and appreciation of academic success by her players was evident from our first conversation, and this is very important to the members of the team." "Everyone with whom we spoke about Karen praised her knowledge of the game, her recruiting ability, her organization and her genuine personality" Smith admitted. "We are pleased that she has accepted our offer to be the next head coach of the Lady Catamounts."
Prior to her stint at Illinois, Middleton spent 10 years as an assistant coach at Stanford University, where she handled off-campus recruiting and scouting for head coach Tara VanDerveer. She also played a role in player development, working mainly with the perimeter players. While at Stanford, she helped the Cardinal to eight Pac-10 conference titles and 10 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, including four Sweet Sixteens and three Elite Eights. She also coached three Kodak All-Americans (Candice Wiggins, Nicole Powell and Kristin Folkl), two Pac-10 Players of the Year (Wiggins and Powell), and 11 players that went on to play in the WNBA. Prior to Stanford,
Middleton served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Eastern Washington University (1994-97) and as an assistant coach the University of South Carolina (1992-94). Middleton attended and played at the University of South Carolina, where she was a four-year letterwinner from 1988-1991. She was a team captain, team MVP and a two-time All-Metro Conference selection during her career and finished as the fifth-leading scorer in school history with 1,714 points. Middleton is in the books as the best shooter in school history as she still holds school records for career 3FG made (317), career 3FG percentage (44.5), season 3FG made (115) and season 3FG percentage (46.9). Her 115 threes made in 1991 ranks as the sixth-most in NCAA history. In addition to playing in four NCAA Tournaments, which included a Sweet 16 appearance, Middleton was a two-time GTE Academic All-District selection at South Carolina and participated in the 1989 USA Basketball Olympic Festival in Oklahoma City.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING ABOUT KAREN MIDDLETON
Jolette Law, Illinois Head Coach
"The administrators at Western Carolina have a keen eye for talent and for selecting winners. Like the coaches who've come before her, Karen will quickly earn the respect of the players and fan base. Karen patiently waited for the right opportunity to return to the Carolinas, landing at Western is like a homecoming of sorts. Without a doubt I can say that Karen's knowledge, experience and respect for how the game should be played is certain to keep Western Carolina at the top of the Southern Conference. Great hire!"
Tara VanDerveer, Stanford Head Coach
"Karen Middleton is very knowledgeable, hardworking and a caring coach. Karen will be an exceptional mentor for her players. The women on the team will grow, improve and thoroughly enjoy playing for her. Karen will continue the outstanding tradition of women's basketball excellence and will be a great representative of Western Carolina."
Beth Dunkenberger, Virginia Tech Head Coach
"Western Carolina made a terrific hire with Karen Middleton. She has been an integral part of Top 25 programs both as a player and as an assistant coach and knows what winning is all about. With Karen leading the way, I have no doubt that the Catamounts will continue to carry on their championship tradition."
Nancy Wilson, College of Charleston Head Coach
"Karen is one of the nicest people and one of the most dedicated players that I have coached. Because of this I chose her to be on my staff at South Carolina when she was just out of college. I have followed her career with interest because I knew she had the traits to be one of the best. Western Carolina has made a great hire and I am thrilled that she is back in the south."
Debbie Antonelli, Women's Basketball Analyst
"Karen's career path to becoming a head coach has been a diligent and detailed process. She has worked and prepared through each experience with some of the best coaches in the game. She will bring a well prepared game plan and will run a first-class program at Western Carolina."