When Patricia Roy was hired as director of girls athletics for the Indiana High School Athletic Association in December 1971, she faced an uphill climb.
Girls, at that time, played under the umbrella of the Girls Athletic Association. The IHSAA — like most state associations — did not oversee girls sports. There was resistance, even from the IHSAA initially, to add girls sports.
“Tons of resistance,” Roy said this week. “Tons. From the schools, from everywhere. People thought it was going to take away from established (boys) events. They didn’t like that.”
By 1974, the IHSAA offered state tournaments in gymnastics, volleyball, golf, track and field, tennis and swimming. Two years later, basketball was added. The enthusiasm of Warsaw’s Judi Warren, the first IndyStar Miss Basketball, was key, Roy said, to generating momentum for girls sports.
“We implemented each tournament and things started to grow,” Roy said. “More and more kids got interested and that’s when it really began to pop.”
More than four decades later, girls sports in the state have arguably never been better. Here’s just a sampling of the accomplishments in the past year:
>> Princeton’s Jackie Young, a Notre Dame recruit, capped her career by breaking Shanna Zolman’s girls state record to finish with 3,268 points, the most of any person in Indiana high school basketball.
>> Carmel’s girls swimming program set a national record with its 30th consecutive state championship. Senior Claire Adams set a state record with 16 individual titles for her career.
>> The Brebeuf Jesuit girls soccer team and Cathedral volleyball team both finished ranked No. 1 in the country by MaxPreps after winning state championships in their respective sports.
Angela Berry White, the girls soccer coach at Brebeuf Jesuit, called it a “golden age” for girls sports. Berry White would know. She starred at North Central in the mid-1980s, before the IHSAA offered a state tournament in soccer for girls or boys.
“It’s been exceptional, in part because I know how hard it’s been to get to this spot,” Berry White said.
Before Brebeuf played for the Class 2A state title against Penn in November, Berry White told her team she’d also played in the state finals at IUPUI as a player. That was in 1985, nine years before the IHSAA held its own tournament.
“It wasn’t even a varsity sport,” Berry White said. “We were grabbing players from other sports so we could have a team. I try to give our players now a little glimpse of what it was like then. I don’t want to be too ‘Well, back in my day …’ but hopefully they appreciate their opportunities a little more.”
During Young’s march to the top of the basketball scoring list this season, Zolman, who starred at Tennessee; Stephanie White, a star at Seeger, then Purdue; and Skylar Diggins, a South Bend Washington and Notre Dame great, all reached out to Young via social media.
Gestures like that can go a long way to bridging the gap from one generation to the next. Berry White noted that girls growing up now have female athletes to emulate such as Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever or any number of soccer stars, including Ben Davis grad Lauren (Cheney) Holiday locally.
“There are so many more female role models in sports now,” Berry White said. “When I was growing up playing basketball, it was like, ‘OK, I want to be like Dr. J (Julius Erving).’ There were some female athletes you looked up to like Florence Griffith Joyner or Chris Evert, but not as many as there are now.”
There are also a lot more opportunities in the offseason, which can be a positive and negative. Cathedral volleyball coach Jean Kesterson, a seven-time state championship coach, has seen both sides in her 25 years at the school.
“There’s a huge difference now in the volleyball IQ of the kids coming in,” she said. “They understand the flow of the game and how to think the game. They play more. But playing year-round has its disadvantages, too, like the lack of a social life for the kids and the parents who are driving them around everywhere.”
Still, those are the same issues faced by the boys. That also shows, perhaps, how far the girls have come.
“I hope the girls now don’t assume it’s always been this way or take anything for granted,” said Roy, who retired from the IHSAA in 1999. “It took a long time to get a foothold. But all of this success is the outcome you would hope for.”
There has been plenty of success for the girls this year. Here’s a closer look at the highlights:
All six seniors signed with Division I programs and three juniors are also committed to Division I schools. With that talent at their disposal, the Irish were expected to be one of the nation’s top volleyball programs.
Cathedral didn’t disappoint. The Irish finished 36-0 to complete the program’s first unbeaten season. They were ranked No. 1 in the country by MaxPreps, PrepVolleyball.com and Volleyball Magazine.
“I keep saying it was a magical year and it was,” Kesterson said. “The stars kind of aligned when you look back at it. They played close like sisters and loved each other.”
Senior Kendall White, a Penn State recruit, was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for Indiana and a first-team All-American by MaxPreps and PrepVolleyball.com. In addition, Center Grove senior Madison Smeathers was named first-team All-American by MaxPreps, and Cathedral junior Nia Parker-Robinson was second team.
What else can be said? It was essentially a formality that Carmel would capture a national-record 30th consecutive state championship in February, but the Greyhounds did it with a flourish.
Carmel outscored second-place Hamilton Southeastern 438 to 193.5 at the state meet and won nine of the 11 events. Adams, who won national championships in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke last summer in San Antonio, completed her high school career with a record 16 state championships. She is committed to Texas and has aspirations of making the 2016 Olympics.
Carmel’s Veronica Burchill repeated as state champion in the 100 butterfly and broke her own state record.
Young captured the state’s attention as a junior when she became the first girls player to score more than 1,000 points in a season and led Princeton to a Class 3A title. Princeton was upset in the sectional this year but not before Young set a new career scoring record.
Young, who led Princeton to 53 consecutive wins, was named the Naismith Trophy winner for girls basketball nationally, a McDonald’s All-American and the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
Roncalli’s Lindsey Corsaro, a Kentucky recruit, was also named a McDonald’s All-American. Lebanon senior Kristen Spolyar broke Young’s single-season scoring record with 1,031 points and finished her career third on the all-time scoring list with 2,882 points.
Brebeuf Jesuit soccer
Alia Martin, a junior midfielder, led Brebeuf to the state title and No. 1 national ranking by MaxPreps. She was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state to follow her sister, Reilly, who won the award last year.
Martin was also named an All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, along with junior teammate Ryanne Brown.
Track and field
Pike sophomore Lynna Irby led her team to a state title last spring and swept the 100, 200 and 400 meters. She broke the 28-year-old state record in the 100 with a time of 11.50 seconds. She is ranked No. 2 in the world in the 400 among those 19 and under.
Anna Rohrer of Mishawaka won state in the 1,600 and 3,200 last spring, setting a state record in the two-mile. Now at Notre Dame, Rohrer finished sixth in the NCAA meet as a freshman in the fall.
That list doesn’t include names like Lilly King (Evansville Reitz), who set American records in the 100 and 200 backstroke as a freshman at Indiana and was named NCAA Swimmer of the Year, or Brownsburg cyclist Chloe Dygert, a candidate to make the Rio Olympics.
One after another, across multiple sports, girls are achieving at a high level.
“Several years from now, I think we’ll look back at this as an extraordinary time for girls sports,” Berry White said.
Call Indy Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.