| Debbie Hensley
Head Coach Debbie Hensley has truly accomplished something special in the four years she has spent building the Catamount women's soccer program. Not only has she never had a losing season, but in 2002 she had the privilege of coaching nine seniors for their final season as the program said good-bye to its first ever graduating class. For four years, that group gave their all thanks to Hensley's exceptional leadership and determination to produce a winning program.
Western Carolina has not only been a force to be reckoned with in the Southern Conference, but thanks to Hensley and her outstanding assistant coaches, the Catamounts saw national recognition in 2002. The team worked its way into national rankings in goals against average, allowing just 16 goals in 19 matches for a 0.79 average, placing them in 24th on the NCAA's season-ending list. The team also finished the regular-season in the number two spot in the SoCon for the second consecutive year at 10-6-3 overall and 7-1-2 in the league, which was the fewest number of conference losses the program has seen. Representing the Catamounts, seniors Jamie Pawlik and Mandi Tinsley earned All-Conference first team honors in 2002.
Hensley came to Western Carolina University in February of 1999 to begin piecing together a program that would be competing in NCAA Division I soccer that very next fall. At the time, many people had their doubts about how successful the team could be. Associate Athletic Director Fred Cantler was part of the search committee that found Hensley, the leader of the new Catamount soccer program, back in 1999.
"We had several people tell us that it could not be done here at Western," said Cantler. "Obviously, they were wrong. We had heard about a talented young assistant at Furman. We called down there, and the rest is history. Debbie has done a fantastic job here. We could not have found someone who is a better leader for our soccer student-athletes to follow. We are overjoyed about what her teams have done in the program's fledgling years. We are also happy just to have Debbie's smiling face and competitive spirit in our athletic department. Her attitude is contagious to us all."
Hensley's attitude has rubbed off on those around her as she has produced a winning team in each of her four seasons, including winning a SoCon regular-season title in 2001, changing all those nonbelievers into believers along the way. The Cats also finished as runner-up in the conference tournament that year, making it to the championship match in just their third season of competition, faster than any team in league history. Western lost that match 2-1 in double overtime after entering the tournament as the number one seed, just missing out on an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. During the season the Cats earned their first ranking by a well-respected national body in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, who ranked WCU as high as eighth in the Southeast Region.
Prior to the conference tournament, the announcement was made that Coach Hensley had been named the 2001 Southern Conference Coach of the Year. The announcement surprised no one, as the Cats went from being picked to finish seventh in the conference before the season to winning a championship. There was little doubt of Coach Hensley's worthiness of the award.
"I am certainly proud and honored by this award," said Hensley. "But let's face it, it's my team's hard work and great chemistry that has led to all of the awards that have been bestowed upon us this year. Each of us, players and coaches, will tell you that the most important thing was the championship and the journey we took to get there. Each of us will also tell you that we are extremely hungry for more this year."
In regards to the award given to their leader, second-year assistant coach Jerrod Roh said, "Debbie is one of the best motivators of players that I have had the opportunity to work with. She has the right mix of discipline and fun for these college players. I have learned a lot. She is truly deserving of any awards that come her way."
In addition to her team's success and her individual accolades as a coach, the 2001 season saw many other firsts and many other records broken. Hensley successfully coached sophomore forward Jordan Howell to being the first Catamount to win First Team All-Conference honors in soccer, as well as the first to win SoCon player-of-the-week honors. Howell also led the conference in total points on the season.
Hensley led four other players to individual honors in 2001. Juniors Nardia Moore, Jamie Pawlik and Mandi Tinsley were all tabbed Second Team All-Conference, and all made the All-Southern Conference Tournament Team as well. Sophomore Lauren Bramlett also earned Second Team All-Conference honors under Hensley's tutelage. In addition, Howell and Moore became the first Western players to garner All-Region honors. Howell was named to the All-Southeast Region's Second Team by Soccer Buzz magazine, while Moore made the Third Team.
As a first year program in 1999, Hensley led Moore to becoming the National Freshman of the Year for First Year Soccer Programs as tabbed by Soccer Buzz magazine. Teammate Kelly Barker joined Moore on the First Year Program All-National Soccer Team named by the same publication.
Hensley is also the founder and director of Western Carolina's Soccer Camps. She is responsible for the initiation of the project as well as promoting youth soccer in the surrounding community throughout the year. The Catamount soccer team and coaches can be found serving food at the community table, rafting down the Tuckasegee River to pick up litter, and volunteering at soccer events throughout the region. This all fits into Hensley's philosophy of building well rounded student Athletes.
"I believe that there is a lot more to a young person's life on campus during their undergraduate years that just playing soccer," said Hensley. "Here at Western, we are interested in seeing our student-athletes become a complete person, ready to contribute to society upon graduation. Our players have had, and will continue to have, a great impact on people in the region as long as I am here."
Prior to coming to Western, Coach Hensley served as an assistant coach as Furman University for three years. While there, Hensley helped turn Furman into a championship caliber program. She also successfully recruited and coached eight all-conference performers in her time at furman. In addition to her duties there, she worked many collegiate camps and was on the ODP staff for South Carolina.
Coach Hensley earned NSCAA/Umbro Regional All-American honors during a stellar playing career at Georgia Southern University. She was also the Southern Conference's leading scorer for her junior and senior years, and was a three time All-Southern Conference first team selection. After her senior season she was chosen to compete in the prestigious Umbro Select College All Star Classic. In addition the speedy forward was voted team captain her last two years in Statesboro. Her first year playing at Georgia Southern was the first year of sanctioned soccer at the school.
Hensley's athletic prowess was not limited to the soccer field. She was also an All-Conference and All-Tournament performer as a softball player at Georgia Southern. She set school career records for runs scored and stolen bases while playing outfield and first base. For her efforts as a two-sport athlete, she was named the Georgia Division IA/IAA College Female Athlete of the Year for 1995 by the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
Hensley earned a bachelor of science degree in Education from Georgia Southern in 1996, and a master of arts degree in Health and Exercise Science from Furman University.