January 25, 2018 // 3:30 PM
Women’s College Basketball Has Come a Long Way, Baby!
Written by Art Petrosemolo
I have always been a basketball fan. My dad played college basketball in the 1930s and actually played in one of the first games where they experimented with taking the ball out of bounds after each basket to replace the center jump ball after each score the way James Naismith invented the game in 1831 at my alma mater Springfield College.
More recently, I have become a women’s basketball fan and have been for 40-plus years. I remember little Immaculata College in Chester County, Pennsylvania (the Mighty Macs) playing in five straight national title games in the 1970s and winning three consecutive national championships from 1972-1974. This was long before teams like the Universities of Connecticut, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Tennessee could draw as many as their men’s counterpart and—in some years—could possibly compete in the men’s Division 1 tournament.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s I was the sports information director at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. I loved it. My wife Tina hated it. When I left to work for a Fortune 500 company in Philadelphia in 1983, Tina said that if Dartmouth ever called again and asked me to be president, I’d have to go back alone!
So, moving on. Men’s basketball at Dartmouth hasn’t had a winning season in decades and it was the same when I worked there. However, many of the Ivy League colleges and universities were just accepting women for the first time in the 1970s and women’s basketball became a “hot” sport. The Dartmouth coach was a (Springfield) college classmate of mine…Christine Wielgus. I knew Chris and wanted to help her promote the program. Chris was an excellent coach, good recruiter and appreciated the help. Her early teams dominated Ivy League play.
The Dartmouth women’s team won four consecutive Ivy League titles (1980-83) while I was there and had a superstar center and Rhodes Scholar in Gail Koziara. She was a four-time first team all-Ivy player and three-time Ivy player of the year. As successful as she was on the court, she was even more successful in business serving as CEO of healthcare giant United Healthcare before starting GKB Global Health LLC, a health care strategy company. Recently she donated $2 million dollars to endow the Dartmouth women’s basketball head coaching position.
I can close my eyes today and see Gail dominating the competition more than 40 years ago as players like UConn’s Breanna Stewart led the Huskies to four consecutive national titles earlier this decade.
Late in my career, while at Fairleigh Dickinson University I photographed the Division 3 women’s team on the Madison (New Jersey) campus. It was 2013-2014 and the stars aligned for the program and Coach Marc Mitchell as the team completed a magical 33-0 season winning the national title in 2014 in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
In my entire athletic career as a participant and as an administrator, I had never been involved with a national champion and standing on the court at Stevens Point with confetti guns blasting all around me and covering the court with a blue and white paper confetti while players and coaches celebrated was as exciting for me as it was for everyone else associated with the program. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
So, you can see, I am a big fan. I watch women’s basketball on TV instead of men’s games. I check the FDU scores daily and watch as many of the University of Connecticut games (I am a Connecticut native) as are broadcast or streamed to my iPhone.
This past week, UConn, undefeated and heading toward another national championship, traveled to Philadelphia to play Temple University. I have never seen the UConn women play in person and it was just “too close” to miss. I reached out to the sports information staff at Temple (now they have a single person dedicated just to the sport) and she was kind enough to put me on the media/photographer list so I could sit and photograph from under the basket. I had done that before when the FDU men’s team played in the NCAA tournament and naturally with the FDU women. But watching and photographing the UConn women was something else. The team is a well-oiled machine under the guidance of (love him or hate him) Coach Geno Auriemma.
The game wasn’t close with UConn winning 113-57 even without superstar Katie Lou Sammuelson, but just watching the basketball ballet on Broad Street was something else. I have gained a new appreciation of how spectacular women basketball athletes can be and as good as Gail Koziara was back then, she too would have difficulty competing with these superstars. It put a period on my women’s basketball experiences and I am happy I went to Temple to photograph the game…. One more thing off my bucket list.