Bradley tabs Popovec as new WBB Head Coach

A rising star in the coaching profession, Northwestern Associate Head Coach and Recruiting Coordinator Kate Popovec has been named the 10th head coach in Bradley University Women’s Basketball history, according to an announcement from Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Dr. Chris Reynolds Wednesday morning.

“I could not be more excited about the future of Bradley Women’s Basketball,” said Reynolds.  “Kate has been successful at every turn and her enthusiasm and energy are infectious.  She is a proven winner and I am confident in her ability to lead our student-athletes to excellence in competition, the classroom and the community.”

“It is truly an honor to become the newest member of the Braves family,” said Popovec.  “In my first conversation with Dr. Reynolds, it was apparent that he and I aligned in our values and goals. 

“Bradley Women’s Basketball has proven it can win in one of the most-competitive conferences in the country and I’m excited to have the opportunity to build on that culture,” Popovec added.  “Bradley also is an institution rich in academic tradition, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to recruit student-athletes to a championship experience on the court and in the classroom.

“I want to thank Chris ReynoldsPresident (Stephen) StandifirdBrad Chandler and Jennifer Jones for their faith in me and my vision.  I would also like to thank my Northwestern family, who has supported me, wholeheartedly, as I take this next step in my career.  I’m excited to get to work!”

A former student-athlete at Pittsburgh and Northwestern, Popovec quickly rose through the Wildcats coaching staff after returning to her alma mater as an assistant coach in 2017.  In the spring of 2018, Popovec was named Northwestern’s Recruiting Coordinator and Defensive Coordinator and she was named Associate Head Coach this past August.  

In the last five seasons with Popovec on staff, Northwestern sported a 92-60 (.605) overall record, including a 48-38 (.558) Big Ten Conference mark.  After finishing as runner-up in the 2019 WNIT, the Wildcats clinched their first Big Ten regular-season title in 30 years in 2020 with a Senior Day win against Illinois, then followed up during the 2020-21 season with their first NCAA Tournament victory in 28 years by downing UCF in the first round.

“Bradley has made a tremendous hire in Kate Popovec as its next women’s basketball coach,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Dr. Jim Phillips.  “Kate is an outstanding person who is extremely dedicated to the student-athlete experience, works tirelessly in her practice and game preparation, is a strong advocate for women and prioritizes the importance of academics.

“Having had a front-row seat in watching Kate as a former student-athlete and coach who led Northwestern to new heights, I know the future is bright for Bradley Women’s Basketball,” Phillips added.  “She is a bright light in the world of women’s basketball.  Sincere congratulations to Kate as she embarks on the next step in her already amazing career and I’m incredibly excited for Chris Reynolds, Bradley and the Missouri Valley Conference on a great hire.”

On the court, Popovec primarily worked with the Wildcat forwards and centers, while directing Northwestern’s defensive efforts.  Of note, senior guard Veronica Burton was selected a 2022 Associated Press third-team All-American.  The three-time B1G Defensive Player of the Year last week was named the WBCA National Defensive Player of the Year.

Among Northwestern’s student-athlete post players under Popovec’s tutelage, Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpana was a two-time All-Big Ten selection, earning first-team honors in 2019, while becoming just the second student-athlete in program history to corral 1,000 career rebounds.  Kunaiyi-Akpanah went on to play professionally in Italy.  She also played for her native Nigeria in the 2020 Olympics and helped her home country to the title at the 2021 FIBA Women’s AfroBasket event.

Popovec also mentored Northwestern forwards Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf through the 2019-20 Big Ten championship season.  Both student-athletes earned All-Big Ten Conference honors in 2019-20 – Wolf honorable mention and Scheid to the first team while finishing second in the nation by shooting 47.7 percent from 3-point range.  Wolf has gone on to play professionally in Spain the last two years, currently with Barca CBS in Barcelona.

In her first season as Northwestern’s defensive coordinator in 2018-19, Popovec led the Wildcats to the best scoring defense in league play, allowing just 60.9 points per game.  During the 2020-21 season, Northwestern led the Big Ten by forcing 20.7 turnovers per game and ranked ninth nationally by averaging 11.5 steals per game.

As the recruiting coordinator, Popovec has overseen all facets of recruiting organization at Northwestern since 2018. She helped bring in the Class of 2024, featuring Paige MottAnna Morris and Jasmine McWilliams. Morris is a five-star recruit with a scout’s grade of 96, according to ESPN, ranking 11th at her position and in the top-50 overall for her class. 

She also oversaw the recruitment of the Class of 2025, ranked No. 10 in the country according to ESPN, the second-highest ranking in the Big Ten. The class includes Hailey WeaverJillian BrownMel DaleyCaileigh Walsh and Mercy Ademusayo. ESPN ranked Weaver as No. 35 recruit overall, while Brown came in at No. 50.  Northwestern Class of 2026 recruit Caroline Lau also has earned a top 100 ranking from ESPN.

Following her graduation from Northwestern in 2013, Popovec began her collegiate coaching career as Director of Women’s Basketball Operations at La Salle for the 2013-14 season.  She returned to Northwestern the following season for a 2-year (2014-16) stint as Director of Player Development for the Wildcats. Northwestern received an at-large selection to the 2015 NCAA Tournament, its first appearance in the Big Dance since 1997.  Popovec earned her first on-court coaching position at Colgate for the 2016-17 season, before joining the Northwestern bench in 2017.

Off the court, Popovec has served on the Big Ten Equality Coalition during the 2021-22 school year.  This past summer, she was invited to the prestigious TopConnect Basketball Virtual Symposium, presented by Teamworks and INLCR.  TopConnect (formerly Villa 7) identifies the top assistant coaches in the country and connects them with mid-major Athletic Directors, providing networking and leadership development opportunities for both parties.

Since June of 2020, Popovec has served as secretary of the Melina Michelle Edenfield Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in memory of her late niece, Melina Michelle Edenfield.  Melina passed away after a 32-day battle with a Diffuse Midline Glioma, an aggressive brain tumor most commonly found in children.  All funds raised by MMEF go directly toward pediatric brain tumor and cancer research.

As a Northwestern student-athlete, Popovec earned Academic All-Big Ten honors in each of her two seasons with the Wildcats (2011-12 and 2012-13).  She was chosen as Northwestern’s female recipient of the 2013 Big Ten Outstanding Sportsmanship Award and she was named a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar following the 2012-13 season.

A native of Canfield, Ohio, Popovec earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northwestern.  She is engaged to Oliver Goss.

Story courtesy: Bobby Parker, Bradley Sr. Associate AD for Communications and Event & Facility Operations

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