Entering her 10th season at the helm of the UAB program, Kerry Messersmith has showcased continued success in leading the Blazers, evident by four 23-plus win seasons and a streak of seven straight seasons finishing .500 or better in Conference USA action.
In the two seasons prior to Messersmith’s arrival in 2006, the Blazers were a combined 15-37, including a 1-24 campaign in 2004. The program had never won a Conference USA Championship and had never earned a berth in the NCAA tournament.
In the nine seasons since she set foot in Birmingham, UAB has made three appearances in the C-USA Championship finals, competed in two NCAA tournaments and posted an overall record of 131-72 (67-37 C-USA). Messersmith’s .635 winning percentage at the school is the highest in program history.
Messersmith will look to return the Blazers their usual success after a tough 2014 season, which saw a young UAB team finish 8-24 overall and 2-14 in C-USA. Sara Rishell, who competed with the US Collegiate National Team in the summer prior to the season, earned All-C-USA Second Team honors for her second-straight all-conference honor.
The 2013 season saw continued sucess for the UAB volleyball program under Messersmith. She guided the team to an overall record of 21-14 and a 7-7 mark in Conference USA, marking the third consecutive season of 20 or more wins for the Blazers.
During that season, four players were selected to the All-C-USA team and Rachel Fairbanks was named C-USA Libero of the Year with Messersmith’s guidance. It was the first Libero of the Year award for any UAB player.
Messersmith guided UAB to its second consecutive 20-win season with an overall record of 20-14 in 2012. The Blazers finished third in the conference with an 11-5 record in C-USA play. Under her tuteledge, All-American Sam Serley set a UAB single season record in blocks and led the conference in hitting percentage.
In 2011, the Blazers were yet again one of the top programs in the league, finishing second in the standings at 23-9 overall and 13-7 against C-USA foes as Messersmith earned the C-USA Co-Coach of the Year award for the first time leading the Blazers. The 13 victories in conference action tied Messersmith’s 2008 squad for the most in program history and the Green and Gold also recorded a 13-match win streak last season, the second longest in UAB lore.
Messersmith reached a legendary milestone during the 2011 campaign, earning her 600th career coaching victory when UAB defeated Rice, 3-1, on October 23 at Bartow Arena. Entering her 25th season on the sidelines, Messersmith boasts a career record of 605-324 (.651).
The Blazers posted two AVCA All-Midwest Region selections in Sam Serley (first team) and Heather Thomas (honorable mention) during the 2011 campaign. Serley and Thomas were also recognized by the conference, earning first and second team honors, respectively. In addition, six times a player won C-USA Player of the Week accolades, five coming on defense.
Messersmith has guided numerous players to notch a spot in several statistics in the UAB record book. Thomas set both the single season (631) and career (2,131) records for digs and finished fourth all-time in C-USA in 2012.
Her inaugural UAB squad made an immediate breakthrough in 2006, winning the program’s first C-USA Championship and advancing to its first NCAA tournament. The team’s 27 wins were the most by a Blazer squad since 1991.
Messersmith earned her 500th career win in the 2006 conference tournament semifinals, and another victory the next day sealed an NCAA trip. The Blazers lost in the first round to fourth-ranked UCLA, but they would be back.
Following a 24-win campaign in 2007 and a conference tournament runner-up finish that left the team just shy of another postseason berth, UAB posted its best season ever in 2008.
At 27-8, the 2008 UAB squad set a program record for winning percentage (.771) and won a school-record 16 straight matches. The Blazers finished second in the C-USA standings at 13-3 and advanced to the league tournament finals for the third consecutive year under Messersmith, losing a hard-fought five-setter to top-seeded Tulane.
But UAB was rewarded for its strong regular season with an NCAA tournament at-large berth and a trip to Lincoln, Neb. The Blazers swept Missouri State, 3-0, on Dec. 5 for the first NCAA tourney win in program history before falling in the second round to No. 4 overall seed Nebraska on the Huskers’ home floor at the historic NU Coliseum. UAB finished the year at No. 22 in the final RPI.
The 2008 team was led by a pair of AVCA honorable mention All-Americans in Ivana Bozic (for the second time) and Nevena Stefanov, who was also the C-USA Setter of the Year. Three seasons later in 2011, Sam Serley (another two-time selection) became Messersmith’s fifth Blazer All-American, while the coach has also tutored eight all-region selections and 11 all-conference players at UAB. Serley (2010) and current assistant coach Casey Dent (three times; 2006-2008) also earned Academic All-District honors under Messersmith’s guidance.
In 2009, Messersmith coached C-USA Newcomer of the Year Michelle Uzoh and All-Freshman team member Serley, who went on to earn second-team all-league honors in 2010. Messersmith led UAB to another winning season in 2009 with a 17-16 overall record and a 9-7 mark in league play. Her 2010 team went 13-19 but closed with wins in its final five matches and eight of its last 11 to post a 10-10 league mark and finish in the top half of the C-USA standings for the fifth consecutive season, every year of her tenure. UAB’s 13-7 mark in league in 2011 extended that streak to six straight years.
Her achievements at UAB are the latest in a long line of coaching successes and program turnarounds. Messersmith owns an overall coaching record of 605-324 (.651), and she took over at UAB with a proven track record of resurrecting collegiate volleyball programs.
Coming to the Blazers from Georgia Southern in December of 2005, Messersmith was the Eagles’ all-time winningest coach in her tenure at the Statesboro, Ga., school. She turned around a program that was 15-45 in the two seasons prior to her arrival in 2001.
The Casper, Wyo., native compiled an overall record of 116-52 at GSU and was 75-17 in Southern Conference matches. Under Messersmith, the Eagles finished 21-11 and were 14-6 in SoCon play in 2001, her first season at GSU. That effort came only a year after Georgia Southern was 11-19 overall and just 5-15 in league action.
For the 2002 and 2003 seasons, the Eagles were a combined 53-18 overall and 35-3 in conference matches. GSU won Southern Conference tournament titles and earned NCAA tournament berths in 2001 and 2003, while also capturing the league’s regular season title in both 2002 and 2003.
Messersmith, who earned Southern Conference Coach of the Year honors during her time at GSU, coached four players to eight first-team all-conference accolades in her five seasons with the Eagles. Four other GSU players earned second-team all-league honors during her tenure.
Her success at Georgia Southern was just another example of a program demonstrating a dramatic turnaround under her leadership. In fact, in her 23-year career as a head coach, she has guided six teams to substantial resurgences.
Prior to taking over the Eagles’ program at GSU, Messersmith spent four seasons at Arizona Western College, where she took a program that won just four matches the season before she arrived to an eighth-place finish at the NJCAA National Tournament four years later in 2000. The Matadors finished 15-23 during her first season but then improved to 33-19 in 1998. The success would continue over the next two seasons as Arizona Western finished 38-13 in 1999 and 43-10 in Messersmith’s final year there.
Before her stint at Arizona Western, Messersmith coached for two years at her alma mater, Chadron State. She guided the school to a combined record of 46-29 over the 1994 and 1995 seasons.
Messersmith also helped lead huge turnarounds as head coach at Allen County (Kan.) Community College, Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College and Pittsburg State University. Her coaching career began at Allen County CC in 1987. During her two seasons there, she compiled a mark of 61-23 and led the program to its first conference championship.
Messersmith is a 1986 graduate of Chadron State, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in education. Messersmith and her late husband, Hal, have two daughters, Meghan and Brynnley, and reside in Vestavia Hills, Ala.