By Ursula Thomas Miller
Amy Waugh is all about challenges. As a youngster, she would pick up her basketball, head outside to the driveway and take on her two older brothers, who found great pleasure in blocking her shots and pushing her around. Her only recourse: outsmart them by developing a shot and a game they couldn’t stop. She did.
As a player for Xavier in the early 2000s, Waugh was sidelined by a tendon injury during her sophomore year. The normal recovery time for that injury was nine and a half months. She couldn’t wait that long. Her only recourse: outwork the expectations. She did, coming back in three months. “I had to be kicked out of the training room,” she says.
As a senior, ESPN invited her to participate in a three-point shooting competition at the men’s Final Four. She beat seven other women to be the female champion and then faced men’s champion Darnell Archey of Butler University for the title. Her only recourse: outcompete him. She did, taking home the title of nation’s best three-point shooter.
And it’s precisely that kind of determination and attitude that propelled her to earn her place last spring as Xavier’s new women’s basketball coach. The 2003 graduate became Xavier’s sixth head coach and its first alumna.
But it’s also precisely that kind of determination and attitude she’s going to need as she walks onto the court this fall, still in the shadows of Kevin McGuff, who in his nine years as head coach developed Xavier into a widely recognized, nationally competitive program. Combined with what Melanie Balcomb accomplished before him, Xavier fans have grown accustomed to winning teams and now expect nothing less than titles and tournaments from the program.
Waugh, though, just shrugs and smiles with the confidence of someone who’s been in the pressure position before. And she has. As a sophomore under Balcomb, Waugh led Xavier to a record-breaking 31-3 record and the school’s first appearance in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. In 2010, she helped Xavier reach its second Elite Eight appearance as an assistant under McGuff, who was Waugh’s coach her senior year and brought her back as one of his assistants in 2009.
It’s unlikely, though, that any outside pressure could top what Waugh already feels internally. “The expectations we have for ourselves,” she says, then, hesitating for a moment, restates her comment, “We’re determined to continue the program at the level it is right now. We just lost two All-Americans and WNBA draft picks in Ta’Shia Phillips and Amber Harris. The team is determined to prove that the program can still play at a high level. I’m excited about it. We have a huge challenge in front of us, but we’re going to work hard and put in the time and get where we want to be.”
While it’s impossible to replace players like Phillips and Harris, Waugh’s brought in two new players—a freshman and a junior college transfer—to complement her three seniors. And six of her 12 players are more than 6 feet tall.
She smiles at the prospects such a roster provides. “I know what it takes to be successful here,” she says.
Wiley for her 29 years, she also knows it takes more than big players. It takes brains on the bench and a fire in the belly as well. And that she can provide. Guaranteed.
“I’ve always been very competitive,” she says. “I like it when people tell me I can’t do something. It’s even more motivating.”
Just ask her brothers.