Debbie Buchanan is the longest-tenured coach in Idaho volleyball history as she enters her 17th season at the helm of the Vandal volleyball program. She has compiled a 244-228 overall record during her time with the Vandals and led Idaho to two NCAA tournament appearances.
Buchanan led the Vandals to the Big Sky North Division title in 2015, going to 10-6 in conference play. Idaho defeated North Dakota in the Quarterfinals of the Big Sky Tournament, earning its first tournament win since returning to the Big Sky.
The 2014 season was Idaho’s first back in the Big Sky Conference. The Vandals had two First Team All-Conference selections in Alyssa Schultz and Meredith Coba to go along with the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year in Stephanie Hagins. Idaho finished 15-14 overall and 11-5 in its return the Big Sky, earning the No. 4 seed in the Big Sky Tournament.
Buchanan entered 2014, coming off of three of her most successful seasons at Idaho. She helped lead the Vandals to a combined 52-37 (.584) record and a 34-14 (.708) Western Athletic Conference record and two second-place WAC finishes. In 2011 Buchanan earned WAC Coach of the Year honors, and had a program-high six players earn WAC postseason honors. Also in 2011, Buchanan became Idaho’s winningest coach in program history, breaking Tom Hilbert’s record of 174 career wins, finishing the season with 179. For her efforts, Buchanan was chosen as the 2011 College Coach of the Year by the North Idaho Hall of Fame.
In 2012 Idaho went 13-5 in the WAC, 17-14 overall and won two WAC tournament matches to reach the league’s championship match. The Vandals finished 19-11 in 2013, the program’s highest single-season win total since 2008, and earned a third-place WAC finish.
Idaho enjoyed success in the WAC advancing to the WAC semifinals in 2010, 2011 and 2013, and the program’s first WAC championship match in 2012. Buchanan’s teams have not finished below .500 in conference play since 2002, and went 91-52 (.636) in WAC games in nine seasons as a member of the conference. Also impressive is Idaho’s 103-52 (.665) record at home since Buchanan took over in 2000, which includes a 86-36 (.705) mark at home since 2003.
While the team continues to work toward a conference championship and its next trip to the NCAA tournament, the program and individual players have accomplished several notable milestones.
Idaho’s trip to the 2013 WAC semifinals was the teams’ sixth since joining the league in 2005 before breaking through to the program’s first WAC championship match in 2012. The 2011 Vandal squad also featured five All-WAC players and four more earned conference honors in 2012.
In 2010, Idaho had two All-WAC players, and in 2009 Buchanan’s Vandals boasted three first-team All-WAC players, a three-time WAC Player of the Week, four WAC All-Academic selections, an 11-5 WAC record, including a 7-1 mark in home WAC contests, and a third place conference finish.
Under Buchanan’s tutelage, Idaho players have earned one All-American honor, two AVCA All-Region selections, 36 All-Conference honors, 12 All-Freshman team selections, and 23 Conference Players of the Week. Buchanan has also coached a player to a first team all-conference selection in 12 of her 15 seasons and boasts the only Vandal player to earn four all-conference honors in her career.
The Vandals knocked off the highest-ranked opponent in the program’s history during the 2004 season as they topped No. 13 UC Santa Barbara. That followed Idaho’s first victory over the Gauchos in 2003. Idaho also defeated No. 18 Santa Clara on the Broncos’ home court in 2001 and No. 18 Utah State at Memorial Gym in 2000. During the 2003 season, Vandal senior Anna-Marie Hammond became only the second All-American in Idaho volleyball history as she earned honorable mention honors.
Off the court, Buchanan’s players have thrived to the tune of 80 All-Academic honors, one Academic All-District selection, and a Big West Scholar Athlete honor in 2003. Idaho has seen at least four volleyball players earn All-Academic honors in each of the last eight seasons, including nine in 2013-14, the most ever for Vandal volleyball.
In just her fourth season as Idaho head coach, Buchanan led the Vandals to their first NCAA appearance since 1995. What was even more impressive was the fact the Vandals received their first at-large bid to the tournament after finishing in fifth place in the Big West. Idaho finished the 2003 season with a 19-11 overall record, its best finish since the 1996 season. The 2004 season yielded more success for Buchanan and the Vandals as they received their second consecutive at-large bid to the NCAA tournament after a 17-13 season.
Buchanan expected this kind of excellence, however, and it is easy to understand why. The adage is “success breeds success.” A St. Maries, Idaho, native, Buchanan’s record, from high school player to student-coach to full-time assistant, is superb. Simply put, she has won on every level, and won a lot.
“The support from the university, the athletic department, and the Moscow community are outstanding,” Buchanan said. “I know what it takes to reach a very high level and Idaho has all of the ingredients to become an elite program.”
Buchanan’s last stop as an assistant coach at Colorado State (under former Vandal head coach Tom Hilbert) saw the Rams reach the upper echelon of college volleyball. In 1999, CSU won a school record 30 matches - in 33 outings - and was among the final 16 teams at the NCAA Tournament. Buchanan also helped the Rams win the inaugural Mountain West Conference Tournament title with a victory over Brigham Young on the Cougars’ home court. With the success, CSU reached a 12th-place national ranking.
Buchanan knew something of helping build programs before she arrived at Fort Collins. She served as Hilbert’s top assistant at Idaho in 1996, a season the Vandals went 25-6 and won the Big West Conference Eastern Division title.
Prior to coming to Moscow in 1996, Buchanan had already established herself as an up-and-coming member of the coaching ranks. A knee injury cut her playing career short before it ever started at the University of Southern California. Rather than give up the game, she became a student assistant for the Women of Troy. She proceeded to learn the art of coaching from then-USC mentor Lisa Love. The precocious student performed a variety of tasks for Southern Cal, including management of vendor contracts, home event management, and assistance with booster club and fund-raising events. In addition to off-the-court duties, Buchanan also assisted with practices, camps and edited game film.
She also coached a highly successful club program while still in college - serving two years as the director and coach of the Santa Monica Volleyball Club. She graduated from Southern California in 1996 with a degree in education with an emphasis in science.
Buchanan went to USC following a standout high school career in northern Idaho at St. Maries High School. In four years, she led the Lumberjacks to four consecutive state A-2 championships (1987-90). She was a three-time conference MVP (1988-90) and an all-state selection three years (1988-1990). After her senior season, she was chosen second-team All-America. Buchanan also played on St. Maries’ 1987 state basketball title team and was a three-time all-conference player for the Lumberjacks’ basketball squad.
Buchanan, who was born March 7, 1973, is married to Buck and they have two children, Austin and Blake.