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Kathi Bennett, a veteran collegiate head coach who has guided three programs to eight NCAA Tournaments and five conference championships while posting a career winning percentage of .605 (323-211), was named head women's basketball coach at Northern Illinois University, May 18 2010, and has already received a contract extension through the 2017 season.
"Kathi brings experience, she brings knowledge of the game, excellent communication skills and above all, she cares about the student-athletes," said NIU Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics Jeff Compher of the ninth head coach in program history. "They will work hard, play hard and have a great experience. I am confident this program will make significant competitive strides and, under Kathi's direction, will achieve our goal to compete for conference championships in the near future."
In just two seasons, Bennett's impact has already been felt. Under her guidance, the Huskies went from a 10-win team in 2009-10 to a 13-win team in 2010-11, despite losing three starters. More importantly, NIU improved from a 4-12 record in Mid-American Conference play to a 7-9 mark in 2010-11 season.
Last season, Bennett directed a youthful roster full of nine underclassmen to the MAC quarterfinals for the first time since 2007 with a 14-17 record, 6-10 in MAC play. The splash in the MAC postseason marked the Huskies' first trip to Cleveland since 2009 and first win in the MAC Tournament since 2007.
Showing the principles of Bennett's famed "pack" defense, the 2011-12 Huskies ranked in the top four in the league in scoring defense, opponent field goal percentage, opponent three-point percentage and defensive rebounding. NIU also ranked 57th in the country in free throw percentage.
Bennett, who earned her 300th career win with NIU to join her father, legendary coach Dick Bennett, on the 300-career-win list, came to NIU after two seasons as an assistant coach at Wisconsin, where she coached the Badgers' defense and was instrumental in UW making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in eight years in 2010. Wisconsin finished tied for third in the league and led the Big Ten in scoring defense in 2010 after ranking 10th in the league in that category prior to her arrival.
A native of Stevens Point, Wis., Bennett is the sister of University of Virginia head men's basketball coach Tony Bennett; her father won 316 games as a collegiate coach at Washington State, Wisconsin, UW-Green Bay and UW-Stevens Point. Kathi Bennett played collegiately at both Stevens Point and Green Bay and earned her bachelor's degree from UW-Green Bay in 1986.
Bennett's 21 years of experience as a collegiate head coach include stops at Marycrest College (1988-89), Wisconsin-Oshkosh (1989-96), Evansville (1996-2000) and Indiana (2000-05). Her career record of 323-211 includes 15 winning campaigns and nine postseason appearances. Bennett is looking forward to developing another winner at Northern Illinois.
"I'm a builder. It's who I am. I know that's what is in me," Bennett said. "The opportunity to build this program... that thumps in my heart."
Fundamental to Bennett's formula for building programs are the "five cornerstones:" passion, servanthood, unity, humility and thankfulness. Developed by her father, Bennett has implemented the cornerstones in their current form since her days at Evansville.
"(The cornerstones) are intangible qualities that we want to instill and stand for in our program," Bennett said. "Hopefully when our players leave, they are things they will carry with them."
Bennett was successful coaching even before the cornerstones were inked into her coaching handbook. Under her guidance, UW-Oshkosh won the 1996 NCAA Division III National Championship with a perfect 31-0 record after playing in the national title game the previous season. She was named Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year five times and was the Women's Basketball Coaches' Association Division III Coach of the Year in 1996.
At Evansville, Bennett took over a program that had an all-time record of 18-113, engineered a 13-game turnaround and led the Purple Aces to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1999. She was named the Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year that season. In 1999-2000, she led Evansville to a school-record 23 wins and a WNIT berth.
The next year, Bennett took over an Indiana program that went 10-18 the year before. Immediately, the Hoosiers embarked on a seven-game winning streak, their longest in two years. Under Bennett's guidance, the Hoosiers doubled their win total to finish with a 20-11 record, and tied for sixth in the Big Ten standings, their best finish since 1997-98.
A season later, Bennett's 2002 Indiana team won the Big Ten Conference Tournament title as the No. 5 seed, defeating No. 1 seed Purdue and regular season champion Penn State. It was the first trip to the NCAA Tournament for Indiana since 1994-95. In five years in Bloomington, Bennett's Hoosier teams defeated six Top 25 opponents and claimed a pair of victories over Top 10 foes. For her part, Bennett is confident that Northern Illinois' women's basketball team can and will be successful.
"This is a place where we can contend for the MAC title, and become a player on the national scene," she said. "The university is diverse, it's strong academically and it is big enough - with 24,000 students - to offer a great atmosphere, but small enough to give its students personal attention. The location and the facilities are excellent. I'm excited to work with Dr. Peters, Jeff Compher and the rest of the staff to reach our goals."
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