In April, Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said goodbye to the chilly Northeast and hello to sunshine and palm trees when it was announced that she would be the University of Central Florida’s newest head women’s basketball coach.
With an impressive resume that includes nine America East Conference tournament and regular season titles and five 20-win seasons leading to five straight NCAA Tournament appearances during her time as head coach at the University of Albany, it’s easy to see why UCF’s Athletic Director Danny White chose her. Abrahamson-Henderson says the opportunity to work with White and head men’s basketball coach Johnny Dawkins, combined with the chance to take her talents to a warm climate, were signs that UCF was the right fit for her.
“Everybody that’s here in this program – all the coaches, all the new coaches, all the new administrators – I just love their vision and what they’re about,” she says.
Known as Coach Abe on the court, Abrahamson-Henderson inherited her nickname from her father, who played basketball while he was in college. After he passed away, friends of her parents started calling her and her brother Abe because they were involved in sports. It stuck when she entered coaching because, she says, “everyone has a nickname in coaching.”
As an athlete, Abrahamson-Henderson played basketball under hall of fame coaches Andy Landers and Vivian Stringer, and throughout her career she has worked alongside hall of fame coaches like Joanne P. McCallie and Bill Fennelly. She credits these experiences with teaching her how to win.
“I’ve been around winning my whole life,” she says. “I don’t know how to lose. I know that sounds funny, but I’m trained to win.”
Abrahamson-Henderson brings these experiences with her onto the court at UCF as she continues to work with the players to help them fight what she calls “the ghosts of the past.” These are the memories of games they played and lost last year.
“To me, the past is over with and you can’t get it back,” she says. “I feel like young people today won’t move on, especially women. They stay stuck in the same play, so I’m trying to teach them vision all the time. You need to stop living in the rearview mirror and start focusing on what we need to accomplish in the next big game.”
Building a Strong Team
When the season started in November, the team came out of the gate strong, quickly winning 10 straight games. While the momentum eventually cooled down, Abrahamson-Henderson and her coaching staff have continued working toward shared goals: to get better every single day in the short term and to take the women’s basketball program to the next level in the long term.
They’re reaching these goals by instilling a work ethic in the players related to a new system, giving them an understanding of how to win and teaching them to hate losing. Another piece of the strategy for Abrahamson-Henderson is to empower her players as women, teaching them how to shake people’s hands, how to look people in the eye and how to talk loud.
“They have to be the ones that are vocal; they have to be great teammates,” she says. “It’s all those little intangibles that a lot of people maybe won’t teach.”
Building a well-rounded person and player also includes stressing the importance of being on time and getting good grades. But most importantly, Abrahamson-Henderson wants to teach her players to be tough.
“I always tell our team that the world isn’t waiting for them,” she says. “You’re going to have to go out and get it. You’re gonna have to be smarter, tougher, be able to talk to people and be aggressive in order to get things in life you want.”
Women Supporting Women
As the regular season comes to a close later this month, Abrahamson-Henderson would like to see attendance spike in one particular way: more women in the stands.
“I am a big advocate of women need to support women,” she says, noting that women go to men’s basketball games and football games because their husbands are there. So why not support the UCF women’s basketball program and bring their husband or partner too?
Abrahamson-Henderson says at the games you’ll see fit women working hard, pressing on and playing a good game of basketball. No matter where the UCF women’s basketball team ends their season, it is just one more step toward the end goal of developing a relevant program.
“I think that we’re gonna start building this program into something great to watch.”