Donna Papa
UNC Softball Staff
Donna J. Papa
Head Coach
NFCA Hall of Fame inductee
Five-time ACC Coach of the Year
All-America selections


Donna J. Papa, the NFCA Hall of Fame head softball coach at North Carolina since 1986, has helped build Carolina softball into one of the top programs in the country. Papa has led Carolina to the NCAA Tournament in 13 of the last 16 years, five regular-season ACC titles and the 2001 ACC Tournament crown. UNC has posted a winning record in 28 of her 31 seasons, with 13 40-win seasons, including a 50-12-1 campaign in 2008, which included an ACC regular-season title at 18-2 and a bid to host an NCAA Regional. 

Under her tutelage, Carolina has established itself as a perennial top-25 program, testimony that North Carolina competes at the highest level on the field while excelling academically at one of the nation’s top universities.  On Nov. 30, 2012, Coach Papa was inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame. She was joined by former Palomar head coach Mark Eldridge and Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso in the induction ceremony held at the 2012 NFCA Convention in Orlando, Florida.

Papa became the 11th Division I head coach to win 1,000 career games during the 2011 season, defeating Virginia, 5-3, as part of a doubleheader sweep. The following season, Papa became just the ninth Division I head coach ever to win 1,000 games at one school, earning her 1,000th Carolina victory against East Carolina on March 13, 2012. 

Ranked 11th in the nation all time and fifth among active Division I head coaches, Papa joined the 900-win club on Feb. 21, 2009, in a victory over Oregon State. In her remarkable 33-year head coaching career, she has compiled a 1,187-656-5 record, including a 1,158-641-5 mark in 31 years as head coach at Carolina.

Carolina claimed the 2001 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament Championship, has won five regular-season titles, and has played in the ACC Championship game on three other occasions. Papa has been named ACC Coach of the Year five times - in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2008 and 2012. Since coming to Chapel Hill in 1985, Papa has helped nine players earn 13 NFCA All-America honors and 64 players to All-Southeast Region honors.

Theresa Buscemi was the first Tar Heel to earn All-America honors when she was named to the Third Team by the NFCA in 1992. Christine Kubin, also a two-time Academic All-American, was the first Tar Heel to earn First Team honors in 1996, and Brandy Arthur followed in 1998. Kelly Ramsey was named to the Third Team in 2000. Tiffany Tolleson became the first two-time All-American in 2003, having taken home a Second-Team award in 2002, and Jaclyn Holden became the first Tar Heel freshman to earn the honor when she was named to the Third Team in 2003. In 2006, Crystal Cox was selected to the Third Team. Pitcher Danielle Spaulding became the first-ever three-time All-American when she earned a First-Team nod in 2010. In 2016, Kristen Brown became the third two-time All-American and fourth First-Team selection, while also becoming the first Tar Heel softball player to earn North Carolina’s prestigious Patterson Medal.

In addition to success on the field, Papa’s program is known for excellence in the classroom. Christine Kubin earned Academic All-America honors in 1995 and 1996, and 10 other Tar Heels have earned a total of 15 Academic All-District selections. Players who have earned that honor are Jenny Reed (1989), Julie O’Shields (1992), Lynnae Flynn (1993), Kubin (1994, ‘95, ‘96), Colleen Lefferts (1999), Beth Olen (2000), Sarah Young (2001, `02), Anna Tharrington (2003), Jessica Graziano (2004) and Anna Evans (2006, `07) and Stephanie Murad (2010).

Tar Heel softball players regularly earn spots on the ACC Academic Honor Roll. Most recently, Lauren Fuller and Kendra Lynch were named to the 2016 ACC All-Academic Team, while Lynch and Elly Wagner earned NFCA All-America Scholar Athlete honors and seven Tar Heels were selected to the ACC Academic Honor Roll. In 2012, Kelli Wheeler was tabbed the ACC Softball Scholar-Athlete of the Year, earning her third ACC academic honor. Many of Papa’s student-athletes have also been heavily involved in the Richard A. Baddour Carolina Leadership Academy (bCLA), with eight softball players earning Leader of Distinction awards, the highest honor awarded by the bCLA, including two-time honorees Anna Evans and Kelli Wheeler.

During her time at North Carolina, Papa has been a driving force behind the construction of the Anderson Softball Stadium. The Tar Heels began play at Anderson Stadium and Williams Field in 2002. The second phase of construction featured the additions of the team building, concessions, press box, restrooms and locker rooms, and was completed and dedicated in 2006. It features many player-friendly innovations while allowing the fans to watch and players to play softball in a first class facility. Most recently she spearheaded the construction of the indoor hitting facility, which opened during the 2015 season. 

Prior to arriving in Chapel Hill, Papa spent two seasons as head volleyball and softball coach at Susquehanna University. Her 1985 softball squad compiled a 16-8 record, won its conference division and qualified for the Middle Atlantic Conference Championship. Papa’s duties at Susquehanna also included working as the women’s intramural coordinator, a physical education instructor and the school’s primary recruiter for women’s athletics. She served as an assistant softball coach at St. John’s University from 1981-83 after spending one year as an assistant coach at UNC Greensboro while she worked toward a master’s degree in physical education. Papa earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from the University of Connecticut in 1979. She played four seasons of softball for the Huskies and was co-captain her junior and senior seasons. Papa’s playing career also encompassed stints with ASA Major Fast Pitch teams including the Franklin Coronets (West Haven, Conn.) and the Waterford (Conn.) Mariners.

A respected clinician, Papa conducts Carolina softball camps and clinics throughout the year. She recently served a two-year term on the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America Committee. She also served on the NCAA All-Region Committee and represented the ACC on the NFCA Top-25 Selection Committee in 2006 and 2007. Championship Productions produced a video titled “All Access North Carolina Softball Practices with Donna Papa,” which is a tribute to her excellent coaching technique and widespread respect from the softball coaching community. Moreover, Coach Papa wrote chapters for the “Softball Coaching Bible I and II” entitled “Establishing a Positive Player Coach Relationship” and “Evaluating Practices.”

Born March 16, 1956, in Waterbury, Connecticut, Papa was a recipient of the Olympian Award, presented by the Olympian Club of Waterbury, Conn., in recognition of outstanding achievement in athletics.

Papa's Career Year-by-Year Record
Year Overall Conference Conf. Finish Postseason
1984 13-7 (.650) 3-3 (.500) MAC
1985 16-8 (.667) 7-1 (.875) MAC
at Susq. 29-15 (.659) 10-4 (.714)
1986 35-13 (.729)
1987 36-11 (.760) –  –  5th at National Invitational Championship
1988 25-23 (.521) –  –  – 
1989 35-17 (.673) –  –  – 
1990 38-18 (.679) –  –  – 
1991 36-12 (.750) –  –  – 
1992 45-18 (.714) 3-4 (.429) 3rd – 
1993 42-17 (.712) 3-1 (.750) 2nd – 
1994 32-25 (.561) 2-4 (.333) 3rd – 
1995 25-34 (.424) 1-5 (.167) 4th – 
1996 33-29 (.532) 6-1 (.857) 1st ACC Runner-Up
1997 21-33 (.389) 2-6 (.250) 5th – 
1998 32-21 (.604) 6-2 (.750) 1st – 
1999 39-22 (.629) 4-4 (.500) T-3rd – 
2000 47-17 (.734) 6-2 (.750) T-1st – 
2001 38-19 (.664) 6-2 (.750) 2nd ACC Champion, NCAA Regionals in Norman, Okla. (1-2)
2002 34-30 (.531) 2-6 (.250) 4th ACC Runner-Up
2003 40-22 (.643) 4-3 (.571) 2nd NCAA Regionals in Fresno, Calif. (1-2)
2004 44-22 (.667) 6-4 (.600) T-2nd NCAA Regionals in Waco, Texas (1-2)
2005 38-29 (.567) 9-9 (.500) 5th NCAA Regionals in Ann Arbor, Mich. (2-2)
2006 48-19 (.716) 13-7 (.650) 2nd NCAA Regionals in Gainesville, Fla. (0-2)
2007 46-21 (.687) 11-9 (.550) 5th NCAA Regionals in Knoxville, Tenn. (1-2)
2008 50-12 (.802) 18-2 (.900) 1st NCAA Regionals in Chapel Hill (0-2)
2009 47-13 (.783) 15-5 (.750) 3rd NCAA Regionals in Chapel Hill (2-2)
2010 42-20 (.677) 11-10 (.524) 4th NCAA Regionals in Seattle, Wash. (2-2)
2011 34-21 (.618) 13-7 (.650) 2nd ACC Runner-Up
2012 43-15 (.741) 13-4 (.765) 1st NCAA Regionals in Athens, Ga. (2-2)
2013 40-21 (.656) 13-8 (.619) 4th NCAA Regionals in Eugene, Ore. (1-2)
2014 24-26 (.480) 14-11 (.560) 5th
2015 37-16 (.698) 16-5 (.762) 2nd NCAA Regionals in Athens, Ga. (1-2)
2016 32-25 (.561) 13-11 (.542) T-5th NCAA Regionals in Harrisonburg, Va. (1-2)
at UNC 1,158-641-5 (.643) 210-132 (.614) 5 ACC titles 1 ACC Championship
Career 1,187-656-5 (.644) 13 NCAA Regionals

Last Updated: February 1, 2017

Position: Head Coach
Experience: 31 Years
Phone: 919-475-3264
UNC North Carolina Softball

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