University of NC - Chapel Hill

UNC Athletic Department
P.O. Box 2126 Chapel Hill, NC 27515
Division 1 North Carolina Southeast
Public Large National competitor


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Donna J. Papa

Donna J. Papa, the NFCA Hall of Fame head softball coach at North Carolina since 1986, has helped build Carolina Softball into one of the top programs in the country. Papa has led Carolina to the NCAA Tournament in 14 of the last 18 years, five regular-season ACC titles and the 2001 ACC Tournament crown. UNC has posted a winning record in 30 of her 33 seasons, with 14 40-win seasons, including a 50-12-1 campaign in 2008, which included an ACC regular-season title at 18-2 and a bid to host an NCAA Regional.

In her remarkable 35-year head coaching career, she has compiled a 1,257-704-5 record, including a 1,228-689-5 mark in 33 years as head coach at Carolina. Papa ranks 10th all time in NCAA victories, eighth in Division I wins and fifth among active DI coaches.

In 2018, the Tar Heels broke their stolen base record for the third consecutive season thanks to five players with double-digit stolen bases.

In 2017, Papa guided a team of 12 freshmen and just seven returning letterwinners to one of the best campaigns in program history, reaching both the ACC Championship game and the NCAA Regional Final in the same season for the first time. The Heels captured four wins over ranked opponents, third-most in school history. Among those was a three-game sweep of No. 21 Pittsburgh, which included Papa's 1,200th career victory on March 3, 2017 - the 11th coach in NCAA history to reach the milestone.

On Nov. 30, 2012, Coach Papa was inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame. She was joined by former Palomar head coach Mark Eldridge and Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso in the induction ceremony held at the 2012 NFCA Convention in Orlando, Florida.

Papa became the 11th Division I head coach to win 1,000 career games during the 2011 season, defeating Virginia, 5-3, as part of a doubleheader sweep. The following season, Papa became just the ninth Division I head coach ever to win 1,000 games at one school, earning her 1,000th Carolina victory against East Carolina on March 13, 2012.

Papa joined the 900-win club on Feb. 21, 2009, in a victory over Oregon State.

Carolina claimed the 2001 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament Championship, has won five regular-season titles, and has played in the ACC Championship game on four other occasions. Papa has been named ACC Coach of the Year five times - in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2008 and 2012. Since coming to Chapel Hill in 1985, Papa has helped 10 players earn 14 NFCA All-America honors as well as 67 All-Southeast Region selections.

Theresa Buscemi was the first Tar Heel to earn All-America honors when she was named to the Third Team by the NFCA in 1992. Christine Kubin, also a two-time Academic All-American, was the first Tar Heel to earn First Team honors in 1996, and Brandy Arthur followed in 1998. Kelly Ramsey was named to the Third Team in 2000. Tiffany Tolleson became the first two-time All-American in 2003, having taken home a Second-Team award in 2002, and Jaclyn Holden became the first Tar Heel freshman to earn the honor when she was named to the Third Team in 2003. In 2006, Crystal Cox was selected to the Third Team. Pitcher Danielle Spaulding became the first-ever three-time All-American when she earned a First-Team nod in 2010. In 2016, Kristen Brown became the third two-time All-American and fourth First-Team selection, while also becoming the first Tar Heel softball player to earn North Carolina’s prestigious Patterson Medal. With a Second-Team selection in 2017, Kendra Lynch rounded out the group of 10 All-Americans.

In addition to success on the field, Papa’s program is known for excellence in the classroom. Christine Kubin earned Academic All-America honors in 1995 and 1996, and 10 other Tar Heels have earned a total of 15 Academic All-District selections. Players who have earned that honor are Jenny Reed (1989), Julie O’Shields (1992), Lynnae Flynn (1993), Kubin (1994, ‘95, ‘96), Colleen Lefferts (1999), Beth Olen (2000), Sarah Young (2001, `02), Anna Tharrington (2003), Jessica Graziano (2004) and Anna Evans (2006, `07) and Stephanie Murad (2010).

Tar Heel softball players regularly earn spots on the ACC Academic Honor Roll. Most recently, Kendra Lynch and Brittany Pickett were named to the 2017 ACC All-Academic Team and a total of five Tar Heels were selected to the ACC Academic Honor Roll. In 2012, Kelli Wheeler was tabbed the ACC Softball Scholar-Athlete of the Year, earning her third ACC academic honor. Many of Papa’s student-athletes have also been heavily involved in the Richard A. Baddour Carolina Leadership Academy (bCLA), with eight softball players earning Leader of Distinction awards, the highest honor awarded by the bCLA, including two-time honorees Anna Evans and Kelli Wheeler.

During her time at North Carolina, Papa has been a driving force behind the construction of and additions to the Anderson Softball Stadium. The Tar Heels began play at Anderson Stadium and Williams Field in 2002. The second phase of construction featured the additions of the team building, concessions, press box, restrooms and locker rooms, and was completed and dedicated in 2006. Most recently, she spearheaded the construction of the indoor hitting facility, which opened during the 2015 season.

Prior to arriving in Chapel Hill, Papa spent two seasons as head volleyball and softball coach at Susquehanna University. Her 1985 softball squad compiled a 16-8 record, won its conference division and qualified for the Middle Atlantic Conference Championship. Papa’s duties at Susquehanna also included working as the women’s intramural coordinator, a physical education instructor and the school’s primary recruiter for women’s athletics. She served as an assistant softball coach at St. John’s University from 1981-83 after spending one year as an assistant coach at UNC Greensboro while she worked toward a master’s degree in physical education. Papa earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from the University of Connecticut in 1979. She played four seasons of softball for the Huskies and was co-captain her junior and senior seasons. Papa’s playing career also encompassed stints with ASA Major Fast Pitch teams including the Franklin Coronets (West Haven, Conn.) and the Waterford (Conn.) Mariners.

A respected clinician, Papa conducts Carolina softball camps and clinics throughout the year. She recently served a two-year term on the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America Committee. She also served on the NCAA All-Region Committee and represented the ACC on the NFCA Top-25 Selection Committee in 2006 and 2007. Championship Productions produced a video titled “All Access North Carolina Softball Practices with Donna Papa,” which is a tribute to her excellent coaching technique and widespread respect from the softball coaching community. Moreover, Coach Papa wrote chapters for the “Softball Coaching Bible I and II” entitled “Establishing a Positive Player Coach Relationship” and “Evaluating Practices.”

Born March 16, 1956, in Waterbury, Connecticut, Papa was a recipient of the Olympian Award, presented by the Olympian Club of Waterbury, Conn., in recognition of outstanding achievement in athletics.

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Mary Jo Firnbach

Mary Jo Firnbach joined the UNC softball program as associate head coach in August 2014, focusing on the development of the hitters and infielders.

In her first season at Carolina, the 2015 Tar Heels ranked fourth in the nation in home runs and 10th in slugging percentage, with shortstop Kristen Brown ranking in the top 10 in the NCAA in home runs and RBIs.

Firnbach continued to mentor Brown during her senior season in 2016, helping the Tar Heel slugger to break the all-time ACC career home run record, while earning NFCA First Team All-America honors and UNC’s prestigious Patterson Medal.

In 2017, Firnbach helped the Tar Heels reach both the ACC Championship game and the Regional Finals in the same season for the first time in program history. Under her guidance, senior Kendra Lynch broke season records for RBIs and total bases en route to a Second-Team All-America selection, while Brittany Pickett was named ACC Freshman of the Year and a Top-10 Finalist for NFCA National Freshman of the Year by excelling both at the plate and in the circle.

In 2018, Firnbach helped UNC improve its ACC record for the third year in a row. Firnbach mentored senior Taylor Wike to several career records and the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

Firnbach came to UNC after spending eight seasons as the associate head coach at Texas A&M. During her tenure in College Station, the Aggies made eight NCAA tournament appearances, including two trips to the Women’s College World Series and four NCAA Super Regional appearances. In 2008, Texas A&M advanced to the 2008 national championship game.

Prior to Texas A&M, Firnbach created the softball program at Syracuse University, where she served as head coach for the team’s first seven seasons (2000-06). In 2005, Firnbach’s crew was named BIG EAST Coaching Staff of the Year, and she followed by leading the Orange to a 36-21 (15-7 BIG EAST) campaign in her final season at the helm in 2006.

Firnbach graduated from Southern Illinois University in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in community health education and later returned for her masters in sports psychology. She is a member of the Southern Illinois University Athletics Hall of Fame.

While at Southern Illinois, Firnbach was named team captain in 1991, a season in which the Salukis went 42-7 and were the Gateway Conference regular season and tournament champions. She was a two-time Gateway All-Conference first-team selection and an All-Midwest second-team selection.

On the professional level, Firnbach played the 1991 season for the Raybestos Brakettes in Stratford, Conn. The Brakettes won the national championship and the gold medal at the Olympic Sports Festival. She also played with the Michigan Cruise in Ann Arbor, Mich., finishing fifth at the national tournament in 1994.

Firnbach entered the coaching profession immediately following graduation, serving as a volunteer assistant coach for two seasons at her alma mater, while completing her master’s degree. She served as an assistant coach at Michigan from 1993-95 where she helped lead the Wolverines to a Big Ten Conference regular season and tournament championships, the National Invitational Tournament title and to an appearance in the College World Series.

Firnbach then served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Illinois State for three years. The Redbirds won the Missouri Valley Conference title in 1996 and 1997 before Firnbach was named the head coach of the Orange in 1998.

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Chelsey Dobbins

Chelsey Dobbins, née Barclay, joined the North Carolina softball program as the Tar Heels' assistant coach in September 2015 and was promoted to associate head coach in 2018. Barclay will serve as UNC's pitching coach, while also working on baserunning.

In her first season with the Tar Heels in 2016, Dobbins helped transform junior Kendra Lynch into an everyday starter. After two seasons seeing limited action in the circle, Lynch had a breakout junior campaign, earning All-ACC First Team and three ACC Pitcher of the Week honors, while setting four Carolina single-season records. Additionally, Dobbins had a tremendous impact on the Tar Heels' baserunning, leading Carolina from just 29 stolen bases in 2015 to a program-record 102 in 2016, including the first-ever pair of Tar Heels to record 25+ steals in the same season (Destiny DeBerry-33, Aquilla Mateen-26).

Carolina's baserunning improved further in 2017, as UNC once again broke its own record with 106 stolen bases as a team. Leah Murray led the ACC with 38 swipes, while a total of five Tar Heels had 10 or more for the first time ever. Barclay mentored a deep pitching staff in 2017, which included three true freshmen in the circle. Rookie lefty Brittany Pickett emerged as UNC's ace under Barclay's leadership, excelling in the circle and at the plate to rank in the top 10 in the ACC in 17 statistical categories and become the ACC Freshman of the Year and a Top-10 Finalist for NFCA National Freshman of the Year.

In 2018, UNC reset its stolen base record for the third consecutive year to 116 with five Tar Heels with double-digit bases, led by Leah Murray’s ACC-best 34. Dobbins guided Carolina’s ace Brittany Pickett to All-ACC first team honors, ranking second nationally in wins, eighth in shutouts and 29th in strikeouts.

Dobbins came to Carolina after two seasons as the pitching coach at Cal Poly where she developed some of the top pitchers in school history. During her first season with the Mustangs, Cal Poly's 2014 rotation led the Big West Conference and ranked 27th among more than 300 NCAA Division I programs with a 2.13 ERA. The Mustang rotation also led the Big West in strikeouts (311 and 5.92 per game) and fewest home runs (23) and earned runs (113) allowed.

Under Dobbins, Mustang right-hander Sierra Hyland was named 2014 Big West Pitcher of the Year after finishing 13th nationally in strikeouts (263) and 15th in victories (26).

Dobbins served as an assistant and pitching coach at Marshall from 2011-13. She capped her tenure in Huntington, West Virginia, by helping the Thundering Herd to a 36-22 overall mark, the program's first Conference USA championship and an appearance in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.

Marshall's 2013 pitching staff ranked 34th among NCAA Division I programs with a 2.25 ERA. During each of Barclay's final two seasons with Marshall, the Herd pitching staff finished among the top-three Conference USA programs in ERA, strikeouts and opposing batting average.

Prior to her time at Marshall, Dobbins served as the graduate assistant pitching coach at Louisiana-Monroe for the 2010 season.

A native of San Jose, Calif., Dobbins earned Horizon League All-Newcomer team praise during her 2004 freshman season at Illinois-Chicago, in addition to helping the Flames to the NCAA Tournament.

After transferring to West Valley College (Saratoga, Calif.), Dobbins was named NorCal Pitcher of the Year after winning 22 times and compiling a 0.54 ERA. She continued her collegiate career at Oklahoma State (2006-07) before graduating with degree in elementary education.

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