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How Title IX paved the way for the rise of UNI women’s basketball
Ranking the top 9 women’s sports moments at UNI: Women’s basketball program’s facilities, budget, competitiveness have steadily improved over 50 years
CEDAR FALLS — Among the women’s sports at Northern Iowa that have taken leaps forward since Title IX’s inception 50 years ago is women’s basketball.
The program has become a shining example of the landmark legislation’s impact as its facilities, budget and competitiveness have steadily improved.
The Panthers have two Missouri Valley Conference regular-season titles, two conference tournament championships, 14 postseason appearances — three of them in the NCAA Tournament — and a 12-season streak of a .500 or better record in the MVC on their resume.
However, just four years prior to Title IX’s passing in 1972, UNI women’s basketball began with no team uniforms, no assistant coach, a roster of exclusively walk-ons, practice after the men’s team late at night and an annual budget of less than $200.
So, while the journey of where the program’s success started can be traced back to many, former athletics director Stan Sheriff and coach and administrator Dr. Sandra Williamson stand out.
By the time Williamson resigned as coach in 1980, numerous improvements including uniforms, an increased budget and better practice hours led to an increase in roster size, scholarship players and the beginnings of success on the court.
“Certainly, at colleges and universities our size, it was slow,” Williamson said of post-Title IX improvements. “When I came in (Sheriff and I) had some times when I said, ‘hey, this has got to (happen)’ and he’d say, ‘no, we don’t have money.’ Well, I would go back in a few days and say, ‘have you had time to think about this?’ So, sometimes it would take a little bit of time, but I think Stan was a good athletics director.”
As seasons went by and Title IX began to age, others helped lead the program on its path to national relevance.
Tony DiCecco was hired in 1995, coached the Panthers for 11 seasons and led the program to its first three postseason appearances. He won MVC Coach of the Year in 2005 and resigned in 2007 as the Panthers’ all-time wins leader. But his recognition of the program’s need for more visibility had a tenure-defining impact.
DiCecco made a point to have himself and his team at as many community events as possible. He also helped broker a deal with Cedar Falls radio station KCNZ-AM to broadcast their games and a weekly seasonal coaches show.
Those efforts helped to more than quadruple the program’s per-game attendance average.
“I would go to every community event just trying to sell our program,” DiCecco told The Gazette. “KCNZ was just amazing (for) the progress of women’s basketball.”
Current UNI coach Tanya Warren — who’s led the Panthers to the postseason 11 times in 15 seasons — was hired by former athletics director Rick Hartzell.
Among the notable coaching searches Hartzell led while at UNI (1999-2008) were women’s basketball and volleyball, and both Warren and Bobbi Petersen have since become their respective program’s all-time wins leaders.
“Without Title IX and without the advent of empowering women, Tanya Warren and Bobbi Petersen could’ve done a lot of things in their lives and been successful,” Hartzell said. “But for them to be able to be in the coaching ranks and impact young women the way they have is certainly a byproduct of Title IX being made to be something very important and opening up new career paths for thousands of women.”
UNI’s Top 9 women’s sports moments since Title IX
1. UNI softball wins 1982 Division II Championship
2. Rise to prominence of women’s basketball
3. Sharon Huddleston — UNI’s first volleyball coach — oversees inception of first women’s gymnastics, and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field teams in 1975
4. Women’s swimming and diving program begins in 1972-73, diving added in 1973-74
5. Women’s golf program starts in 1974, 37 years after men’s golf began
6. Women’s soccer program begins in 2000
7. First years qualifying for the NCAA Division I tournament for volleyball (1986), softball (1990) and women’s basketball (2010)
8. Jacqui Kalin wins two MVC player of the year awards in women’s basketball, breaks all-time program records for points scored (2,081), 3-point field goals made (265), free throws made (484), free throw percentage (.920; the NCAA Division I career record), assists (491), games started (136) and minutes played (4,352).
9. Jessica Heims breaks world record in the F64 discus, becomes multi-time Paralympian
- Bobbi Petersen becomes the all-time wins leader in MVC volleyball.
- Tanya Warren becomes the all-time wins leader in UNI women’s basketball history.
- Hannah Bermel becomes the first women’s golfer in UNI history to earn four first team All-MVC awards and the first women’s golfer in MVC history to earn four straight scholar-athlete honors.