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Building, rebuilding, reloading. Katie Abrahamson-Henderson: ‘That’s what I do’
Cedar Rapids native will coach her 12th team (at four different schools) to the NCAA tournament; Georgia faces Florida State in the first round Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Katie Abrahamson-Henderson is a builder. Or a rebuilder. Or a reloader.
“That’s what I do,” she said. “This time, it’s a reload.”
The Georgia women’s basketball program wasn’t exactly in dire straits when Joni Taylor left last year to coach at Texas A&M. The Bulldogs were NCAA tournament qualifiers each of the last two years.
So, maybe Abrahamson-Henderson isn’t even a reloader in this case.
Maybe her role is to elevate.
Whatever it is, she said, “This is it. This will be the last place I coach.”
Builder. Rebuilder. Reloader. Elevator. Wherever she has gone, Abrahamson-Henderson has won.
The Cedar Rapids native — she graduated from Washington High School in 1985 — is taking her 12th team (at four different schools) to the NCAA tournament.
Ten-seed Georgia (21-11) faces 7-seed Florida State (23-9) in a first-round game Friday; tipoff is 12:30 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City.
Abrahamson-Henderson, 56, is one of eight head coaches in the NCAA women’s tournament that are native Iowans.
Three hail from the Cedar Rapids/Marion metro area: Abrahamson-Henderson, Iowa’s Lisa Bluder and Maryland’s Brenda Frese.
This wasn’t the career that Abrahamson-Henderson intended.
“I didn’t want to coach,” she said.
The leader of Washington’s 1985 state runner-up team under Coach Paul James, Abrahamson-Henderson played two years at Georgia, then transferred to Iowa (“I got homesick,” she said), where she sat out a year, then played her final two seasons for C. Vivian Stringer.
Her senior year, Abrahamson-Henderson started all 29 games, averaging 8.5 points and 3.7 rebounds.
The Hawkeyes reached the Sweet 16 in 1989, were bumped in the second round in 1990.
Abrahamson-Henderson’s post-Iowa intent was to become a fitness trainer or run a fitness club. But while at graduate school at Duquesne University, she was persuaded to become a graduate assistant.
The wheels of a coaching career began turning. She was an assistant at Maine for two years under Joanne P. McCallie. Then six years under Bill Fennelly as Iowa State. Then back with McCallie, as associate head coach, at Michigan State.
In 2002, Abrahamson-Henderson landed her first head-coaching assignment, at Missouri State. She took the Lady Bears to the NCAA tournament three times in a five-year stint there that netted a 95-61 record.
Then it was Albany (145-47 in six years, with five NCAAs), then Central Florida (131-49 in six years, three NCAAs).
UCF was 26-4 and reached the second round in 2021-22. When Georgia called last March, Abrahamson-Henderson listened.
“A lot of it had to do with the realignment thing,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “Where was everybody going to end up? Texas and Oklahoma are coming into the SEC.
“There were only two places I would have left UCF for: Georgia or Iowa.”
Georgia started 7-0, slipped a bit, then finished with eight wins in its final 11 games to make the tournament.
“We have a lot of energy, a lot of toughness, a lot of fight,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “I think we’re hard to guard. We’ll press you a lot, offensive-rebound ... we’ll do all of the tough stuff a lot of people don’t like to do.”
The Bulldogs’ first-round game is a virtual coin flip: Florida State is a 1 1/2-point favorite.
“They’re athletic, tough, fast, a lot like us,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “They’re transition monsters.”
Abrahamson-Henderson’s oldest daughter, Savannah, is a 6-foot-3 freshman for the Bulldogs, but was injured early in the season. Her youngest daughter, Brooklyn, is a junior in high school.
When she looks back at what she has accomplished (so far), Abrahamson-Henderson looks past the 12 NCAA tournaments in which she has coached.
She looks back further, to those that propelled her on.
“You look back and see who I got to play for, two Hall of Fame coaches in Andy Landers and C. Vivian Stringer,” she said.
“I mean, come on, how lucky am I? God has truly blessed me.”
Eight Iowa natives coaching in the 2023 NCAA women’s basketball tournament
Katie Abrahamson-Henderson (Cedar Rapids), Georgia
Jennie Baranczyk (Urbandale), Oklahoma
Lisa Bluder (Marion), Iowa
Bill Fennelly (Davenport), Iowa State
Jim Flanery (Guthrie Center), Creighton
Brenda Frese (Cedar Rapids), Maryland
Shauna Green (Clinton), Illinois
Allison Pohlman (Wellsburg), Drake