A three-time Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year, Mary Taylor Cowles enters her 10th season as the head coach at her alma mater.
During those first nine seasons, Cowles has led the Lady Toppers to seven 20-win seasons, and her Lady Toppers have won five Sun Belt East Division championships between 2003 and 2008. WKU won the title outright in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2008. In her first season, Cowles led WKU to a 22-9 record and the 2003 Sun Belt Conference East Division title. After starting the year 5-7, Cowles regrouped her troops as WKU won 17 of its last 19 games, including 14 straight to win the Sun Belt Tournament championship and return to the NCAA Tournament for the 15th time in school history. The Lady Toppers also finished the year with a 12-2 conference record, the best mark in the Sun Belt.
Her efforts during her first campaign as head coach earned her Sun Belt Coach-of-the-Year honors, making her the first Lady Topper coach since Paul Sanderford in 1986 to win the award. Following a 22-5 regular season in 2006, Cowles again was named the league Coach of the Year, then won the award again in 2008 after leading WKU to a league-best 16-2 Sun Belt record and another East Division Championship. That put her in company with Sanderford and Leon Barmore (Louisiana Tech) as the only coaches in Sun Belt history to win Coach-of-the-Year honors three times.
WKU picked up its second straight East Division title in 2003-04, this time sharing the title with Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee with a 10-4 league record. After advancing to the SBC Tournament championship game for the second straight year, Cowles' young squad took advantage of an invitation to the 2004 WNIT. WKU advanced to the quarterfinals of the tournament for the second time in school history, and posted a 20-14 record.
WKU went on to capture its third straight Sun Belt East title under Cowles in 2004-05, finishing the season 20-10 and posting a 12-2 mark in the conference.
WKU enjoyed its most successful season under Cowles in 2005-06, finishing 27-7 and winning the SBC East with a 12-2 mark. She joins Sanderford as the only two coaches in the program's history to begin their coaching careers with four straight 20-win campaigns. The Lady Toppers also enjoyed another successful postseason run, advancing to the semifinals of the WNIT for the first time in school history before falling to eventual champion Kansas State by one point in overtime.
After a 23-9 season and another trip to the WNIT semifinals in 2006-07, Cowles helped guide the Lady Toppers back to the NCAA Tournament in 2007-08. WKU posted a 26-7 record in '07-08, while winning 23 games in the regular season - the most in 10 seasons. The Lady Toppers then picked up their second Sun Belt Tournament championship, and earned a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
In nine years, Cowles has seen many of her players bring home individual honors. That group includes 20 all-Sun Belt selections (Crystal Kelly (four times), Leslie Logsdon (three times), Tiffany Porter-Talbert (three times), Arnika Brown (three times), Dominique Duck (twice), Amy McNear (twice), Kenzie Rich (once), Shala Reese (once) and Kristina Covington (once)), 12 all-Sun Belt Tournament picks (Kelly (twice), Porter-Talbert (twice), Brown (twice), Logsdon (once), Covington (once), Duck (once), Rich (once), McNear (once) and Keisha Mosley (once)), three Sun Belt Players of the Year (Reese, Porter-Talbert and Kelly) and three Sun Belt Freshmen of the Year (Porter-Talbert, Kelly and Brown). Kelly also became the first Lady Topper to earn WBCA/Kodak All-America honors under Cowles during the 2006-07 season.
Not only has Cowles mentored a number of individual award-winning student-athletes, but there are a number of former players and staff members that have advanced in the college coaching ranks. In fact, a total 10 individuals involved with the program over the past nine seasons are either current or former coaches in programs across the country. That includes a pair of women's college head coaches - Carrie Daniels (Austin Peay) and Brian Wilson (Connecticut College).
Cowles is familiar with the WKU program from top to bottom - she played for the Lady Toppers from 1987-91 and was a member of the Lady Topper coaching staff as an assistant (1995-97) and associate head coach (1997-2001). In fact, of the program's 806 wins entering the 2010-11 season, Cowles has been a part of 426 (52.9%) of those victories either as a player, assistant coach or head coach.
During her time on the Hill, Cowles has been a part of 10 Lady Topper NCAA Tournament berths (1988-91 as a player, and 1995, '97-98, 2000, 2003 and 2008 as a coach), including two Sweet Sixteen appearances in 1991 and 1995. Cowles was one of 30 players voted by fans to the all-time Lady Topper team as part of the WKU Centennial Celebration in 2006.
Cowles came to the Hill from Marshall County High School in Benton, Ky., where she averaged 18.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. She was selected as a Kentucky Gatorade All-American in 1987 and was presented with the Kentucky "Miss Basketball" award, the fourth Lady Topper signee at the time to receive the honor. Her prep career also earned her induction into the Kentucky Lions Club All-Star Hall of Fame in 1999, and the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2000.
During her college career on the Hill, Cowles earned the WKU Coaches' Award in 1991. In addition, she was named the Most Valuable Player in the '91 Sun Belt Conference Tournament and, as a senior that year, she was WKU's Female Athlete of the Year.
By the time she concluded her career as a player, Cowles had scored 1,072 points, making her the 16th member of the Lady Topper 1,000-Point Club. She scored on nearly half of her shots, with a 49.9 percent shooting percentage. She also completed her career ranked in the top 10 on four of WKU's career statistical lists, including rebounds and blocked shots.
Cowles earned her bachelor's degree in business education from WKU in 1992 and received her master's degree in 2004. A resident of Rockfield, Cowles is married to Gil Ray Cowles, a WKU graduate (1985), employed by Astra Zeneca Pharmaceuticals. The Cowles' have three children - a son, Corbin, and two daughters, Caroline and Catherine.
The Cowles File:Born - January 7, 1969High School - Marshall County (Ky.), 1987HS Athletics - Basketball, forward, 4 lettersCollege - WKU (BS), 1992; WKU (MA), 2004College Athletics - Basketball, forward, 4 lettersCoaching Experience - Franklin-Simpson (Ky.) H.S., head coach (1992-93) (Girls Tennis) Franklin-Simpson (Ky.) H.S., assistant coach (1992-93) Greenwood (Ky.) H.S., head coach (1993-94) (Girls Cross Country, Tennis) Western Kentucky University, assistant coach (1995-97) Western Kentucky University, associate head coach (1998-2001) Western Kentucky University, head coach (2003-present)Family - Husband, Gil Ray; one son, Corbin; two daughters, Caroline, Catherine