Gary Higgins, who led the Lenoir-Rhyne women’s soccer team to unprecedented heights on and off the field for seven seasons, was appointed the fifth head women’s soccer coach at East Carolina University in March of 2022.
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.
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.
Emily Buccilla was named interim head coach on Feb. 10, 2022 after four seasons as an assistant coach.
During the 2019 season, Buccilla helped three members of the ECU defense earn honors from the AAC. Jayda Hylton-Pelaia became the first ECU player to earn Preseason Player of the Year honors since moving to the AAC in 2014 when she was named the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Although Hylton-Pelaia’s season was cut short due to an injury, goalkeeper Melanie Stiles and defender Kim Sanford both earned Second-Team All-AAC honors, the second straight season that multiple Pirates earned postseason honors. Buccilla also helped Daria Draovitch finish her Pirate career with nine assists, including eight in her two seasons playing under Buccilla’s tutelage, to move into a tie for eighth all-time at ECU.
In her first season in Greenville, Buccilla helped guide the Pirates to a 10-6-3 record and an appearance in the AAC Championship Semifinals, marking the first time since 2014 that ECU had achieved those feats. Under her guidance, Jayda Hylton-Pelaia and Courtney Cash were named to the AAC All-Conference Second-Team while Grace Doran was named to the All-Conference Rookie Team.
Buccilla spent the prior four seasons as an assistant women's soccer coach at Stetson University.
"I am very excited to add Emily to our staff," Hamilton said. "She has been part of a strong Stetson program that has grown during her time there and allowed her to learn and develop as a coach under strong leadership. She brings a good balance to our staff on the field, as she will work with our attacking players. Her ability to see the big picture of the game will allow our players to be able to learn from her on a daily basis. Emily will also be a great role model to our athletes and have an immediate impact on them as they prepare to be successful after their time as a student-athlete."
Buccilla was specifically responsible for working with Stetson's attackers during her time in DeLand. Her work with Sarah Collins helped her turn in a historic season in 2015 when she tied the school record with 12 goals and earned first-team All-Atlantic Sun Conference honors.
Prior to her time at Stetson, she served as the girls' head varsity coach at Canal Winchester High School in Winchester, Ohio. In addition to her duties at CWHS, Buccilla also coached the Barcelona Ohio FC U12 & U13 club teams.
Buccilla has been coaching since graduating from St. Bonaventure University with a bachelor's degree in visual arts in 2012. She spent one year as head coach of the U12 Pickerington (Ohio) Blast, and was the assistant girls track coach at Ridgeview Junior High and the junior varsity girls' soccer coach at Pickerington North High School.
Buccilla was a four-year letter winner and team captain at St. Bonaventure where she was part of the winningest senior class in SBU history - the first senior class to go to four straight Atlantic 10 Championships.
Evan Gaffney, a well-respected goalkeeping mentor who enjoyed an impressive international playing career, was appointed assistant women's soccer coach at East Carolina University on April 8, 2022.
The Dublin, Ireland native most recently served as men's assistant coach and developmental squad head coach at Coker University where he helped lead the Cobras to the South Atlantic Conference Tournament championship and an overall 12-7-2 mark during the 2021 campaign.
In addition to being ranked as high as fourth nationally during the season, Coker produced four All-SAC and all-region performers. Defensively, the Cobras posted five shutouts and surrendered a paltry 1.46 goals against average.
Following a stellar playing career at Truett McConnell (Ga.) University, Gaffney served a part-time role as keeper coach for the women's program at his alma mater in 2020. He was a four-year starter, a two-time All-Appalachian Athletic Conference selection and two-time team captain while manning the net for the Bears from 2016 to 2019. He helped lead TMU to an AAC Tournament title in 2017, was selected as the defensive player-of-the-year on three occasions and was the newcomer-of-the-year in 2016.
Gaffney earned a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in sport management from Truett McConnell in December of 2020.
Before moving to the United States, Gaffney served as a junior goalkeeper coach for the Irish Pro Keepers Academy, designing and instructing training sessions for athletes in various Dublin venues beginning in 2014. In all, he coached 10 different male and female keepers - two of which play professionally in Ireland and two others who are starring at U.S. collegiate programs.
Gaffney, as a player, was a member of both the U15 and U16 squads for the Republic of Ireland, participated in the U17 and U18 extended squad training camps and was a part of the 2014 U19 Elite Premier Division winners. Additionally, he earned invites to trials at Manchester United, Brentford and West Bromwich Albion.
In the realm of coaching, he possesses United States Soccer Federation (USSF) 4v4, 9v9, 11v11 and United Soccer Coaches (USC) Goalkeeper Level I and Goalkeeper Level II licenses along with six certifications from the Football Association of Ireland (FAI).
Dara Battistoni was named Director of Operations in July of 2022. Battistoni spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach with the women’s soccer program at Marist College. During her tenure, Battistoni helped guide the Red Foxes to an appearance in MAAC Championship tournament and four All-MAAC selections, including the MAAC Goalkeeper of the Year. While at Marist, Battistoni completed her Master of Business Administration degree, graduating in May of 2022.
A native of Pleasant Valley, New York, Battistoni joined the Red Foxes in February of 2021 following two-plus years at MAAC-rival Siena College as an assistant under Steve Karbowski. In her first season with the Saints in 2018, the team went 6-2-2 in MAAC play and won 11 games, earning a trip to the MAAC Championship game. During her time at Siena, four Saints earned All-MAAC honors, including Taylor Dorado’s selection as MAAC Goalkeeper of the Year in 2018. In addition, 31 Saints were named to the MAAC All-Academic Team in 2018 and 2019, with a program-best 16 in the latter year.
Battistoni graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University with her Bachelor of Science degree in May of 2018. Prior to graduation, Battistoni was a four-year member on the Fairleigh Dickinson University women’s soccer team from 2014-2017. Earning Second Team All-Northeast Conference honors in 2017 and an All-Rookie Team selection in 2014, she appeared in 75 matches, including 59 starts. She recorded 18 career points, 13 of which came during her junior season when she ranked tied for sixth in the conference in scoring. As a center back, Battistoni helped guide the Knights to 46 wins and both an NEC Championship and NCAA Tournament appearance as a sophomore in 2015. FDU won at least a share of three NEC Regular Season Championships during her career, while amassing a stellar 25-4-3 (.828) conference record.