Heather Kearney, former associate head coach at High Point and a 20-year NCAA coaching veteran, has been named head women’s basketball coach at Western Carolina.
She replaces Stephanie McCormick, who was dismissed after four years and a 23-94 record, including 7-49 in the Southern Conference. The Lady Cats were 4-26 this past season and 0-14 in the league.
With experience at five different NCAA schools in a variety of coaching roles, Kearney becomes WCU’s 12th women’s basketball head coach in the program’s history.
“I’m blessed and thankful for the opportunity (Interim Chancellor) Alison Morrison-Shetlar, (Athletic Director) Randy (Eaton) and (Senior Woman Administrator) Stacey (Miller) have provided me with to lead the Catamount women’s basketball program,” Kearney said. “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. She previously held the same position at both Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State. 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,” Eaton said. “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. 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.”
Kearney helped guide High Point to a school-record 22 victories, a runner-up finish in the Big South Conference and a bid to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament in 2018-19, improving on a fourth-place finish and a tournament semifinal appearance the previous season.
While at both High Point and 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 Lady Panthers led the Big South Conference and ranked 14th in the NCAA in steals per game and 16th nationally in turnovers forced per contest.
In 2016-17, Coastal 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.
Kearney has also handled offensive duties during her coaching career, doing so during her five seasons on the bench at ASU. In each of her first four seasons in Boone, at least three players averaged double-digit scoring and the aggressive, fast-paced offense had at least one player rank among the Southern Conference’s top five scorers for four straight seasons.
As the associate head coach, she was a part of helping turn around an ASU program – producing four, 20-plus win seasons – that had just one winning season the previous 12 years. The 2010-11 and 2011-12 teams won Southern Conference regular season championships and had Sweet 16 appearances in the WNIT.
Originally from Harrisville, Pennsylvania, Kearney was a four-year letter winner and a team captain at Slippery Rock, graduating with a degree in sports 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 and educational psychology in 2003.
As a player, Kearney helped lead Slippery Rock to a NCAA Division II East Regional championship in 1995-96. The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Rookie of the Year in 1996 and a two-time, first-team all-conference selection, Kearney closed her playing career as the school’s leading scorer with 1,760 points and finished 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 seasons as an assistant coach and later associate head coach before taking over as the head coach for the 2008-09 season. The program made eight straight NCAA Division II tournament appearances with Kearney on the bench and won the 2004 NCAA Division II national championship.
As the head coach, Kearney led the Lady 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 record, and she was named Conference Coach of the Year.
“I am elated for both Heather and the Western Carolina women’s basketball community,” said DeUnna Hendrix, the former high Point head coach who was recently named coach at Miami of Ohio. “Heather has an advanced basketball mind and leads with integrity, love, and grit; a perfect formula to success. I’m grateful for the integral part she played in our success at High Point 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.”
“Western Carolina hired a gem when they decided to hire Coach Heather Kearney,” said Coastal Carolina Coach Jaida Williams. “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.”