Johnson named recipient of VanDerveer Fund

Published 6:00 am Friday, September 10, 2021

Longwood University was selected as one of 10 national recipients of the prestigious Tara VanDerveer Fund for the Advancement of Women in Coaching, the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) announced this week.


The award provides $15,000 in grant funds and additional funding for professional development opportunities for a WSF VanDerveer Fellow chosen by the university, which will be Longwood women’s basketball assistant coach Ka’lia Johnson.

Johnson, a 2015 graduate of Duke University now entering her third year on head coach Rebecca Tillett’s staff, was named Longwood’s WSF VanDerveer Fellow after the university was chosen through a competitive selection process. The grants are designated for female coaching fellows in a wide variety of women’s sports.

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“I am extremely honored to be selected as the recipient of the Tara VanDerveer Fund,” Johnson said. “Coach VanDerveer has been a part of changing the landscape of women in coaching for many years, and it is amazing that they provide these types of resources to up and coming coaches like myself. It has been nothing but joy since I stepped onto Longwood’s campus in 2019, and Coach Tillett has encouraged personal and professional growth since Day One.

“One of my favorite quotes is ‘The highest human act is to inspire’ by the late rapper Nipsey Hussle. Being around these women inspires me every day, and I hope that I do the same for them.”

Since joining the Longwood women’s basketball staff, Johnson has helped the team turn in back-to-back historic seasons, with the Lancers tying or breaking multiple program records in that span. In her first year, the Lancers had a nine-win turnaround over the previous season, one of the top marks in the NCAA. In addition, the Lancers tied a program record for Big South wins (8) and hosted a playoff game for the first time in team history in the Big South Conference Tournament.

In her second year on Tillett’s staff, the Lancers finished a program-best third in the Big South standings while also winning 12 conference games and advancing to the Big South tournament semifinals. That success paved the way for the team to earn an invitation to the Women’s Basketball Invitational for the first time in team history.

Presented by the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF), the VanDerveer Fellowship was first awarded in 2019 to address the lack of women in coaching positions in all levels of sport.

“The Women’s Sports Foundation mission and the purpose of the Tara VanDerveer Fund for the Advancement of Women in Coaching closely align with our program goals of empowering women to dream their biggest dreams, while not setting self-imposed limits or accepting those set by others,” said Tillett, who enters fourth season at the helm of the Lancers. “Tara VanDerveer has inspired countless student-athletes and coaches. Ka’lia will be a great representative as a fellow. She has achieved success at every level of her playing and coaching career and has been an integral part of the success of our program the past two years. This season she will take on even more responsibility as our offensive coordinator. She pours into each of our women and the entire program each and every day.”

A former point guard herself for the ACC Champion Duke Blue Devils, Johnson’s tutelage has helped Longwood point guard Tra’Dayja Smith write her name across the school record books in back-to-back seasons. Smith set the single-season record for assists in 2019-20 while also tallying the program’s first triple-double, and she now holds two of the top 10 single-season assist totals in her two seasons in Lancer blue.

“We are grateful to the Women’s Sports Foundation for selecting Longwood and Ka’lia Johnson as recipients of the grant from the VanDerveer Fund,” said Longwood athletic director Michelle Meadows. “While it is humbling to be chosen among such a select group, I will affirm there are few college athletics programs that are as authentically dedicated to female empowerment as our women’s basketball team.

“’KJ’ has contributed immeasurably to that mission since joining us in 2019, and the opportunities she will now have access to from the VanDerveer Fund will not only benefit her as a professional, but all student-athletes within her orbit as well.”

WSF began awarding grants from the VanDerveer Fund in 2019 to address the lack of women’ coaching positions at all levels of sport. According to figures cited by the WSF, since the passage of Title IX in 1972, the percentage of women in head coaching roles for NCAA women’s sports has steadily declined from 90% in 1970-71 to 41% in 2020. Only 28% of all NCAA assistant coaches in 2020 were women, and only 6% of all NCAA assistant coaches were BIPOC women.

Per the WSF, aspiring women coaches are able to jump-start their careers and contribute to growing representation of women in the coaching space through the opportunities they receive from the Tara VanDerveer Fund. Hired by educational institutions that receive the grant, fellows receive mentorship from established collegiate coaches, hands-on-training and professional development resources. Since its inception, the Fund has provided a total of $600,000 to 26 colleges and universities across the country, supporting 27 coaching fellows across 11 different sports.

“Having greater representation of women in leadership positions, especially coaching, plays such a pivotal role in inspiring the next generation,” said Deborah Antoine, CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation. “WSF is proud to continue honoring Tara VanDerveer’s history-making legacy with this important Fund that helps encourage and support women pursuing a coaching career.”

To learn more about the VanDerveer Fund and meet the 2021 grant recipients, please visit: https:// tara-vanderveer-fund/