by Donna Turner
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 .628, has been named head women's basketball coach at Northern Illinois University.
Bennett becomes the ninth head coach in program history.
“I am thrilled to welcome Kathi Bennett to the Huskie Family,” said Jeff Compher, NIU associate vice president and director of Athletics. “Kathi brings experience, she brings knowledge of the game, excellent communication skills and above all, she cares about the student-athletes. 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.”
Bennett comes 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, Wisc. Bennett is the sister of University of Virginia head men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett; her father, Dick, 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.
“I feel like this is the opportunity of a lifetime for me,” Kathi Bennett said. “It is rare to encounter an opportunity where everything is perfect - the timing, the situation, the people. I feel like that with this head coaching job at Northern Illinois.”
Bennett brings 17 years of experience as a collegiate head coach at Marycrest College (1988-89), Wisconsin-Oshkosh (1989-96), Evansville (1996-2000) and Indiana (2000-05). Her career record of 296-177 includes 12 winning campaigns and nine postseason appearances.
Under Bennett’s direction, 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.
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. Her Hoosier teams defeated six Top 25 opponents and claimed a pair of victories over Top 10 foes.
Compher said that in an outstanding pool of candidates, Bennett stood out.
“We had an unbelievable amount of interest nationally in our head coaching position and an outstanding pool of candidates,” Compher said. “Coaches across the nation recognize the advantages that Northern Illinois offers in terms of our proximity to Chicago and the wealth of talent in the Midwest, along with the tradition of our program.
“Kathi brings many of the qualities we identified during the search process, including strong ties to the Midwest and proven ability to revive a program. Kathy doesn’t just have ties to the Midwest, she is defined by the Midwest. Finally, Kathi showed a lot of passion for the job. Her desire to be here at Northern Illinois University was definitely a factor.”
For her part, Bennett is confident that NIU’s 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 25,000 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.”
Bennett replaces Carol Owens, who resigned April 29.