| Angell Benson
Angell Benson, a Waynesville native and WCU alum, is entering her third year at Western Carolina after serving as the head coach at Gardner-Webb University for the six seasons prior to her return to Cullowhee.
In two years with the Catamounts, Benson has compiled a 38-29 record and defeated teams such as Tennessee during the 2002 season en route to winning the annual Catamount Clash tournament in Cullowhee. The following year, in what could be an unmatched feat, the Cats won their home tournament for the third consecutive year without surrendering a single game throughout the three-match event, shutting out Coastal Carolina, Savannah State and Tennessee State.
In continuing with their winning ways, the Catamounts traveled to Birmingham, Ala., and came back to the mountains with the Union State Bank/Samford Invitational trophy. WCU clawed its way to a 3-2 win over the host school and proceeded to take down Alabama-Birmingham and South Alabama as well, only giving up one game between the final two matches. Shari Harder and Kellyn Thaut were named to the All-Tournament team for their efforts throughout the weekend, while Harder claimed MVP honors as voted on by the tournament's coaches.
To end Western's string of tournament appearances, Benson's squad faced its toughest challenge to date. The Lady Cats competed in the Georgia Tech Invitational, squaring off against the fifth-ranked Yellow Jackets, a tough South Florida team and 24th-ranked Wisconsin in the two-day event.
"Although it was a tough tournament and those are very hard teams to play, it's always a great experience for us," Benson said. "I try to schedule one tournament like that every year because playing teams of that caliber prepares us for the tough conference season."
And it paid off for the Cats as they went on to win three of their first four SoCon matches, including a 3-1 victory over Chattanooga which finished second, just ahead of WCU in the SoCon North Division. (Due to the addition of Elon to the Southern Conference in 2003, the volleyball field was split into two, six-member divisions.) Other big conference wins for Western during the 2003 season included coming out on top of a 3-2 victory versus SoCon rookie Elon and sweeping UNC Greensboro in both meetings. Benson additionally toppled her former team, Gardner-Webb, 3-0 on Oct. 22. The Catamounts finished the season in third place in the North and 26th in the NCAA in digs per game with 17.85 per contest. Thaut was additionally named the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year, which marked the first time in WCU volleyball history that a Catamount has received the honor.
To start her inaugural season as head coach, the Catamounts came away from the MTSU tournament breaking even, defeating Chicago State and Evansville and falling to Middle Tennessee and Purdue. However, in response, WCU bounced back to win the Catamount Clash the following weekend, defeating Tennessee, falling to Villanova and then conquering Georgia State en route to the tournament championship.
Benson led the Cats on a tear throughout the rest of the season, posting an eight-match winning streak, giving up only two games during that span, and completing two-match sweeps of six out of 10 SoCon opponents. In 2002, WCU finished the season ranked sixth nationally in digs per game (19.61) and Sara Komosinski was named a first team All-SoCon member as Western finished the season at 22-12 and in fifth place in the SoCon. Komosinski went on to finish her career as WCU's all-time leader in blocks with 563.
While at Gardner-Webb, Benson posted a 166-69 record with the Bulldogs from 1996 to 2001, coaching them to a South Atlantic Championship in 1997 (31-7) and in 1999 (42-4). She was named the conference Coach of the Year during each of those seasons.
The Gardner-Webb athletic program made the transition from a Division II to a Division I program by the 1999-00 school year. During the time the school was recognized as a Division II institution, Benson coached six first team All-South Atlantic Conference players, one of which was named Freshman of the Year in 1997. She also coached one Player of the Year during the 1999 season.
Additionally, during that time, Benson led the Bulldogs to a 48-10 conference record - a winning percentage of .827 - and posted 30 wins or more twice during that span, winning 31 matches in 1997 and a school-record 42 matches in 1999.
Before her career at Gardner-Webb, Benson worked as a graduate assistant with the Western Carolina volleyball team assisting with recruiting, camps and scheduling. Benson played for the Catamounts from 1989-1992 as a utility player and served as a team captain during her senior season. She helped lead WCU to a Southern Conference regular-season championship in 1989. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Western in 1993 and later went on to receive her Master of Arts degree in Education in 1997.
A product of Tuscola High School, Benson led the Mountaineers to a North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior in 1998.
Benson resides in Waynesville and is married to Charlotte, N.C., native Sam Benson. The couple have a newborn son, Jett Harding, born on June 25, 2004.