ABILENE, Texas - Abilene Christian head women's basketball coach Julie Goodenough will receive the Kay Yow Heart of a Coach Award at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast on Sunday during the Women's Basketball Coaches' Association convention in Dallas.
Named for the late North Carolina State coaching icon Kay Yow, the award is presented annually by FCA to honor a basketball coach who has exemplified biblical principles over the course of his or her career. The late Kay Yow, who passed away from breast cancer in 2009, was presented with the inaugural award at the 2008 Women's Final Four in Tampa.
Recently retired Nevada head coach and fellow award recipient Jane Albright called Goodenough with the news earlier this month.
"I was left speechless when she told me I had won because of the huge amount of respect I have for the past recipients," said Goodenough, who recently finished a 23-9 campaign with the Wildcats, advancing to the second round of the WNIT. "There was an incredible pool of candidates, so in a way I feel overwhelmed by the amount of appreciation shown to me by my colleagues, friends and former players through this nomination. This is an impressive group I'm now part of, and it's a privilege to be included."
ACU Director of Athletics Lee De León will be in attendance at Sunday's award presentation to show his appreciation for the fifth-year Wildcats' coach.
"I am so proud of Julie for receiving this incredible honor," he said. "Like Kay Yow, she is a wonderful woman of God and an excellent coach who profoundly impacts the lives of our student-athletes on and off the court."
"This award is proof of the kind of woman she is, and I think it's great that so many more people will now know what's she's accomplished here at ACU," added four-year starting forward Sydney Shelstead. "She's a woman of God. She's a woman of integrity. She's everything I could've ever asked for in a coach, and I wouldn't have wanted to play for anyone else.
"I consider her to be my Abilene mom. She is what she preaches, and she preaches excellence. She is honest and trustworthy, and has helped me out above and beyond time and again. This award encompasses everything she is, and I believe she is a true hero of Abilene and ACU."
A proven winner with 23 years of experience coaching at all levels of collegiate basketball, Goodenough was nominated by her longtime assistant coach Erika Lambert. The nomination was further supported with heartfelt letters of commendation from Texas Woman's head basketball coach Beth Jillson, former Wildcat Whitney (West) Swinford, and Jimmie Keeling, who was the head football coach at Hardin-Simmons University where Goodenough her first collegiate head coaching job prior to the 1993-94 season.
"Football and basketball are such different sports but I learned more about coaching from Jimmie than anyone else," said Goodenough. "He'd open his mail in my office every day, and he taught me how to treat student-athletes in a first-class manner, to invest in players, recruit character, and create a culture of excellence. He's the one who came up with our locker room quote, 'play hard no matter what.' And all this time later he continues to be one of my biggest supporters."
Keeling and Goodenough worked alongside one another for 10 years at HSU, and he's closely followed her career even after she moved onto DI programs at Oklahoma State and Charleston Southern. She and her family returned to the Big Country in 2012 when she was named head coach at ACU.
"It was a real pleasure to watch her excel as a coach, and particularly to see how she molded the character of the women she coached," Keeling said in his letter to the award committee. "The thing that was always most impressive to me about Julie was how she lived out her faith in Jesus Christ every day and in everything she did … She is definitely a Christian servant in many ways."
Goodenough and her family, which includes husband, Rob, and daughters, Bailey and Macy, are active members at Pioneer Drive Baptist Church. The coach also is greatly supportive of the Big Country FCA, and with the Wildcats, she has helped develop a meaningful partnership with Disability Resources, Incorporated – a Christ-centered ministry that provides a home for mentally and physically disabled adults.
The Wildcats are constant guests at the DRI facility in Abilene. They know everyone there by name and make three to four visits per month to engage with residents and staff. In the fall, they help unload trucks of pumpkins. DRI members also are invited annually to perform the Star-Spangled Banner at a women's basketball home game.
"Coach Goodenough has a heart of gold," said Swinford, who scored 1,195 points for the Wildcats between 2012-16 before serving as a FCA Representative in Abilene. "She may try to hide it – and she may not know that anyone notices – but she tears up every time they (DRI Bell Peppers) perform the national anthem. She loves and believes in the (DRI) residents. They may not be able to do everything we can do, but she knows that each is unique and talented in their own ways."
The Wildcats additionally are involved with Team IMPACT, and in the midst of their 2015-16 Southland Conference Championship season they invited 14-year-old Hannah Snyder to join their roster. Snyder lives nearby in Albany, and despite suffering from cerebral palsy and other ailments such as epilepsy, she has fit perfectly in with the team because she refuses to cave into adversity. Snyder enjoys an active life, from playing tennis to dancing and swimming. She also is involved with her local 4-H organization by raising and showing pigs, in addition to taking care of her family's cats and dogs.
"She's (Hannah) a warrior who has fought more battles than anyone on our team can even imagine fighting," said Goodenough during Snyder's introductory press conference in February of 2016. "But every time we see her, she smiles real big and gives great hugs. She's really been an inspiration to us because she faces adversity with a smile and courage … and that's what we try and teach our players each day. Now they get to see it lived out in a seventh-grader."
The Wildcats didn't lose another conference game after Snyder was presented with her jersey, and they went on to become the first team in program history to qualify for the WNIT after finishing the season with a first-place record of 17-1. But what was most remarkable about their finish was that they went 6-0 without one of their starting forwards and leading scorers and rebounders in Lizzy Dimba.
Dimba was lost for the season after tearing her ACL during a Valentine's Day practice, but three days later the Wildcats' staved off a late challenge from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on the road and survived a missed tip-in in at home vs. Southeastern Louisiana. From there the Wildcats handily beat teams from Houston Baptist, New Orleans and Incarnate Word, before defeating the Islanders once more in the season finale.
For Shelstead, a CoSIDA Academic All-District honoree who is on target to graduate this May with an engineering degree, the team's unique ability to overcome adversity all has to do with Goodenough's constant message of, 'controlling the controllables.'
"She (Coach Goodenough) doesn't want us to waste time on the things we can't fix," said Shelstead. "Bad fouls, missed baskets, travel, being kicked out of our gym for Sing Song – we have no control over any of that, and she wants us to get past any negative reactions as fast as we can. She also wants us to see something positive in each adverse situation, and act in a right and moral way."
This year's Wildcats continued to strive through adverse situations. Picked as the preseason favorite to repeat as Southland Conference Champions, the Wildcats were dealt an early-season blow when senior Alexis Mason missed the first five games of the season with an injury. However, the Wildcats would soon make an impression by playing No. 24 Missouri close for four quarters and then winning their next two preseason WNIT games at home vs. Omaha and UTRGV.
ACU this season also battled No. 2 Baylor and No. 25 Texas A&M on the road, and after beating Murray State right before Christmas, the Wildcats guaranteed themselves a .500 record (6-6) in non-conference play.
The Southland schedule was not kind to the Wildcats. As defending champions they had to twice play league stalwarts Stephen F. Austin and Central Arkansas, and face Lamar at home while the school was still on Winter Break. ACU went on to beat all three of these schools at least once, and its road win at SFA was coupled with a last-second, one-point victory at Northwestern State – a game in which Shelstead knocked down two free throws with less than a second remaining.
The Wildcats went on to beat its last four conference opponents by double digits to clinch a share of the Southland Conference Championship with Central Arkansas, and after the Sugar Bears won the league's tournament, it was back to the WNIT for the Wildcats.
In a sort-of homecoming for Goodenough, the Wildcats rallied from a 10-point first quarter deficit to shock Oklahoma State and its crowd at Gallagher-Iba Arena, 66-56, in their first-round WNIT game. And if not for a slow start offensively last Monday at SMU, the Wildcats may have been able to complete their comeback attempt vs. the Mustangs. ACU trailed by as many as 26 points that evening, but cut its deficit all the way down to seven in a 59-52 loss.
While many fans were at SMU to cheer on their beloved Wildcats, there will be an on-campus event the night of Sunday, April 9 to give this cherished group a proper sendoff when the team will hold its second-annual awards banquet. The awards banquet will run from 5 to 7 p.m. Individual tickets can be purchased for $25 or a table for eight can be sponsored for $400.
FCA Kay Yow Heart of a Coach Award Winners
2008 - Kay Yow, North Carolina State
2009 - Jane Albright, Nevada
2010 - Nancy Wilson, College of Charleston
2011 - Sue Ramsey, Ashland
2012 - Deb Patterson, Kansas State
2013 - Sue Semrau, Florida State
2014 - Kristy Curry, Alabama
2015 - Matt Bollant, Illinois
2016 - Kirk Martin, Cedarville
2017 - Julie Goodenough, Abilene Christian
Courtesy ACU Athletics.
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