East Carolina University hires Gary Higgins as women’s soccer head coach
GREENVILLE, N.C. – Gary Higgins, who led the Lenoir-Rhyne women’s soccer team to unprecedented heights on and off the field for the past seven seasons, has been named the fifth head women’s soccer coach at East Carolina University, director of athletics Jon Gilbert announced.
Since being hired by Lenoir-Rhyne in 2015, Higgins has become the all-time winningest coach in program history with a career record of 83-31-13, which includes a 49-16-1 mark in South Atlantic Conference (SAC) play. He guided the Bears to the 2021 NCAA Division II Semifinals before falling to eventual national champion Grand Valley State. It was the program’s first trip to the Final Four and the Bears’ final ranking of No. 4 in the United Soccer Coaches Poll was the highest in school history.
Higgins is a two-time SAC Coach-of-the-Year selection who led Lenoir-Rhyne to a pair of SAC regular season championships and one league tournament title. The Bears advanced to three NCAA Tournaments under Higgins’ watch, including the 2021 edition. He coached four All-America performers, most recently Ria Acton in 2021, and 46 all-conference picks, including the 2019 SAC Player-of-the-Year (Aqsa Mushtaq) and 2016 SAC Freshman-of-the-Year (Abigael McGarel).
Higgins’ squads also had success in the classroom with five Academic All-America honorees. Claire Neibergall was named the 2018 SAC Scholar-Athlete-of-the-Year – just the second Lenoir-Rhyne soccer player to win the award.
“Gary’s ability to build and maintain a championship caliber program on the field and in the classroom at Lenoir-Rhyne is a testament to his leadership and communication credentials,” Gilbert said. “His documented history of success, both in the SAC and at the NCAA Tournament level, is a result of his work ethic, unparalleled player development and the cultivation of relationships, especially in the recruiting arena inside the state of North Carolina.”
After starting his collegiate coaching career at Lenoir-Rhyne as an assistant for the men’s program, Higgins left his alma mater for Tusculum (Tenn.) where he was an assistant men’s coach from 2012 to 2015. The Pioneers went 24-24-6 with a SAC title in 2014 with Higgins on the staff.
As a player, Higgins was a four-year letterman at LR from 2006 to 2009 and earned Honorable Mention All-America accolades in 2007. He also was a two-time All-SAC and All-Region selection, leading the Bears to a 19-1-1 record in 2006 and a berth in the regional final of the NCAA Tournament.
A native of Paisley, Scotland, Higgins played for St. Mirren Football Club at the professional youth level and represented his country as a member of the U18 squad. He also played semi-professionally with the Reading (Pa.) Rage of the USL Premier Development League and captained the Knoxville Force of the NPSL. He led the Rage to the league semifinal in 2008 and garnered team MVP laurels.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in health and exercise science from Lenoir-Rhyne in 2009, Higgins completed requirements for a master’s in liberal arts from LR in 2011. Additionally, he holds a USSF National D Coaching License.
Higgins is married to the former Klara Ledford and the couple are the parents of daughters Mirin and Eilee.