Furman head tennis coach Debbie Southern added yet another achievement to a lengthy list in 2006, winning her fourth consecutive Southern Conference Coach of the Year Award, while leading the Paladins to a 14th SoCon Championship and another NCAA Tournament appearance. Southern enters her 23rd season as the Lady Paladins head coach as the winningest women’s tennis coach in Furman history (329 victories), but with a focus that is the same as it was from her first day on the job: make Furman women’s tennis more and more competitive each day.
During her tenure at Furman, Southern has led her squads to 14 Southern Conference tournament titles, a .931 Southern Conference winning percentage (149-11), and an unbeaten record in regular-season league play dating back to 1998-99 (70 matches).
On December 4, 2004, Southern was further recognized for her coaching efforts with her induction into the South Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame. This honor was in recognition of not only her coaching success, but of her tireless work with the sport on the national, regional and local levels. Southern was introduced at the induction ceremony by Rex Maynard, father of former Paladin Sadie Ellen Maynard and past president of the South Carolina Tennis Patrons Foundation. He commented, “Coach Southern has done more with less, as far as developing a tennis program goes, than anyone I know. Despite Furman’s relatively small size, Debbie runs a big time program and she plays big time schools. She make the extra effort, through the Lady Paladin Tennis Boosters’ Club, to raise extra money so that her team can do more. She is very fair, but she is demanding, and that is a good thing. She expects her players to work hard and be successful on the court and in the classroom, and they are. I think what she has done is truly remarkable, and I am thrilled that she was selected for the South Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame.”
Southern is known for playing difficult non-conference schedules in order to better prepare her team for conference success. To get her team ready for such stiff competition, Southern puts a strong emphasis on physical fitness. She leads her players in a stringent off-season conditioning program that includes both aerobic and anaerobic workouts. Her coaching philosophy and practice of recruiting top student-athletes has paid off in the form of 72 Southern Conference singles and doubles championships, 99 conference academic honor roll citations, 115 all-conference selections, seven NCAA tournament appearances, a national sportsmanship award for former Lady Paladin Kathryn Jarvis, and an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship for Megan Dunigan in 2002.
Widely recognized for her administrative skills in addition to her coaching and recruiting prowess, Southern served as assistant to the director of tennis at the 1995 U.S. Olympic Festival in Colorado Springs, Colo. She has also served as a member of the NCAA Women’s Tennis Committee and chair of the NCAA Southeast Regional Committee. As a member of the national committee, Southern helped pick the 64-team NCAA Tournament field and helped select individuals for the NCAA singles and doubles championships.
In 1993, the Southern Tennis Association (STA) selected Southern as coach of the girls’ 18 intersectional team, which faced the other U.S. regions at the USTA Girls 18-under Intersectional Championships in Fairfield, Calif. During the summers of 1997-99, she coached the boys and girls under-16 zonal teams in Winston-Salem, N.C. She has served as chair of the Southern Conference women’s tennis committee since 1998 and previously from 1987-1994.
In 2000, Southern became the first person to earn the South Carolina Tennis Association Coach-of-the-Year award on two separate occasions (1991 & 2000). She was named Southern Conference Coach of the Year in 1985, 1987, 1991, 1993, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Southern was also honored as the recipient of the Furman University J. Lyles Alley Coach-of-the-Year Award in 1998, 2002 and 2006, which is presented annually to the top coach in the Furman athletic department. Southern is one of only three Furman coaches to receive the honor three times.
Southern is a member of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), and served on the ITA Board of Directors from 1997-2002. Southern also served as chair of the Skin Cancer Awareness Committee and chair of the ITA Omni National Championships in Dallas, Texas, for three years. In 2007 and 2008, she will be a member of the Southern Tennis Association Player Development Committee.
In honor of Southern’s service to the Furman University tennis program, women’s court one at the Minor Mickel Tennis Center was dedicated in Southern’s name. Donations were made in Southern’s honor by friends, alumni, and former players.
In addition to her coaching and administrative work, Southern has played competitive tennis since her days as a premier junior player in the state of North Carolina.
A 1981 graduate of the University of Tennessee with a degree in secondary physical education, Southern enjoyed a fine playing career for the Lady Volunteer tennis program, winning the Tennessee state doubles title in 1978.
Upon graduation, she earned her Master of Education degree from Austin Peay, where she later returned to begin her head coaching career.
In May of 1994, Southern completed her Master of Business Administration degree at Clemson.
While at Furman, Southern has developed the Lady Paladin Tennis Club as a means of raising additional money for the Furman women’s tennis program. Close to Southern’s heart is the task of endowing a scholarship for the program; an endeavor she hopes to accomplish before retiring. She founded the annual Ultimate Mix: South Carolina Pros and Furman Chicks Pro-Am, where all proceeds benefit her scholarship endowment.
A native of Winston-Salem, N.C., Southern enjoys sea kayaking, swimming, snowskiing, cycling, hiking, rollerblading, and a variety of other sports in addition to tennis.