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.