Danny White did a lot of things right in his five years as UCF’s vice president and director of athletics, but his track record with hiring coaches was perhaps the best part of his legacy. With every hire he made, the legend grew. White simply couldn’t miss. And while there is a phenomenal crop of coaches on campus right now that he brought to Orlando, there’s one that has proven to be his best hire: Katie Abrahamson-Henderson.
When it was announced Monday night that the UCF women’s basketball team had earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the last three seasons, Abrahamson-Henderson’s résumé became even more impressive. What she has done for Knights women’s basketball has been nothing short of spectacular, and it truly feels like this run is only just beginning.
Prior to the hiring of Coach Abe in 2016, UCF women’s basketball was in a bad place. Joi Williams, to her credit, helped the Knights to Conference USA championships—and therefore NCAA Tournament berths—in 2009 and 2011 and left Orlando as the program’s all-time winningest coach. But over her final five seasons, UCF posted a 54-99 record, including a 7-23 mark in 2015 that led to the coaching change. From there, the rest is history.
In April of 2016, White hired Abrahamson-Henderson away from the University of Albany, where she had posted a 144-46 record, won four conference championships and made five NCAA Tournament appearances in six seasons. While there, she turned a previously struggling Great Danes program into a consistent winner. And since arriving in Orlando, she has done the same thing for the Knights.
In year one, Coach Abe took UCF from 7-23 to 21-12—with a 9-7 record in American Athletic Conference play. That led to the program’s first-ever WNIT appearance and its first-ever WNIT win. Another second-round WNIT appearance came in year two after the Knights went 22-11 and 12-4 in the AAC. Then, in the 2018-19 season, UCF went 26-7 overall and 13-3 in the AAC, which was enough to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. Despite a first-round exit, it was a landmark season for the Knights, which was followed by a 2019-20 season that saw UCF win 20 games once again, with the team putting up a 20-10 record before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled postseason play.
Now, after having last season cut short, the Knights are going dancing for the second time in three years. They finished the 2020-21 season with a 16-4 overall record and an 11-2 mark in the conference. In five seasons, Abrahamson-Henderson—who won her 100th game with the Knights last month—has made UCF one of the premier teams in the conference. The program has six NCAA Tournament appearances since joining the Division I level, and two have come in the last three years. And with UConn gone to the Big East, a conference championship—the team’s first during it’s time in the AAC—doesn’t appear far off. That’s the next step, but what has already been accomplished over the last five seasons is undoubtedly worthy of some celebration.
The job that Abrahamson-Henderson has done is simply unlike that of any of White’s other hires. That’s not to say the others haven’t done well. Scott Frost was White’s first big hire and the football program captured lightning in a bottle there. Josh Heupel, for all of his faults, still had an undefeated regular season and won a conference title in his time at UCF. Johnny Dawkins, Greg Lovelady, Scott Calabrese and Cindy Ball-Malone have all worked some magic at one time or another for their respective programs. But the success that Abrahamson-Henderson is having—and how consistently she’s having it? It’s hard to beat that.
As a No. 10 seed, UCF will square off with No. 7 seed Northwestern (15-8, 11-7 Big Ten) to open the NCAA Tournament on Monday afternoon in Texas. A win would be the program’s first in the tournament, and it would represent yet another leap in a long line of them under Coach Abe. And with the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense, this team absolutely has what it takes to go on a run.
Regardless of what happens on Monday and beyond, Abrahamson-Henderson has proven to be a gem of a hire by White. And with every UCF win and every postgame dance from Coach Abe, hopefully Knight Nation realizes what a special coach it has to lead its women’s basketball program.