This is the first in a two part series about Ohio State women’s basketball and it’s bookend dominance of the B1G since play began in 1982. I will be highlighting the B1G champs during their dominance as well as some very special players and coaches at OSU in the last thirty years.
Let’s get things started with the eighties and how the Lady Buckeyes led the way. They won 7 of the first 8 titles in the B1G and 8 overall in the early era. If you include the ones that aren’t officially counted by the B1G they won 11 since the 1975-76 seasons.
The Lady Buckeyes really got started in the 1965-66 season under the direction of Phyllis Bailey as they made the transition from an intramural team to big time college basketball. The ERA movement was in full swing and the ladies were moving into the sports realm with basketball being one of the first and most popular of college sports to see this growth.
They struggled to find their way in the early years until OSU hired a young lady who would turn things around and eventually leave coaching to become a renowned psychologist. Debbie Wilson led the Buckeyes from 1972 thru 1980 season and even thought there wasn’t a B1G tournament officially, she led them to three straight titles in 1976, 77, and 78 and thus set the standard for what would become the most dominating team in B1G basketball history.
As the B1G officially started their tournament in the 1981-82 seasons they had a coach that I’m betting they wish they had kept somehow. Tara VanDerveer led them into the transition of B1G tournament and the NCAA’s also initiating one to decide a national champion. In five years with OSU, VanDeveer was 110-85, with four B1G titles and three NCAA appearances. Her success in Columbus led to her hiring at Stanford and she’s been there ever since. Two National Titles and ten PAC12 COTY awards later and she is one of the best to ever coach.
Rick Bay will always be one of my favorite people in the history of Ohio State Athletics. He quit the post in 1987 after being made to fire head football coach Earl Bruce, which is onne of the classiest moves ever by an administrator. He will also always be remembered as the person who made one of the most important hires for women’s sports at OSU as well.
After losing Coach Vandeveer, he went out and stole one of the top assistants in the nation in Nancy Darsch. Darsch had been an assistant under the legendary Pat Summit at Tennessee and was an important part of a staff that was dominating women’s basketball.
Carrying the torch for what VanDeveer had started, Darsch put her stamp on the program and continued the domination of the B1G having won four B1G titles in her tenure and making the NCAA’s 7 times, including a National Final in ’93, a two point loss to Texas Tech. She was passed in total wins by Jim Foster but she will always be the coach that really solidified Ohio State women’s basketball on the national scene as well as in the B1G.
Darsch began her coaching career at Longmeadow High School (Massachusetts), where she coached basketball, softball, and field hockey from 1973 to 1978. As an assistant under University of Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt from 1978 to 1985, Darsch helped lead the Lady Vols to five Final Four appearances. Darsch became the head coach at Ohio State University in 1985. In her 12 years at the helm at Ohio State, she led the Buckeyes to four Big Ten Conference Championships and seven NCAA appearances. In 1993, Darsch led Ohio State to a 24–4 record, a Big Ten Championship and the NCAA final. In the championship game, Ohio State lost to Texas Tech, 84–82. She compiled a record of 234–125 (.652) while at Ohio State
Ohio State had two repeat All-Americans in the early era in Tracey Hall and Katie Smith, both have had their jerseys hoisted to the top of The Schott. They have had four players between ’65 and ’97 become All-American and the first was Frani Washington in 1979.
The Toledo native scored 711 points in that season which stood as the single season record until Katie Smiths 745 the ’95-’96 season. She also held the single game record of 39 points in 1978 that stood until Katie Smith’s 40 in 1994, which was broken by Samantha Prahalis on Senior night last season. In her All-American season, Washington led the team in steals(81) and was second in assists (98) and rebounds (212).
The second All-America for the Lady Buckeyes was literally the female version of Jerry Lucas. Tracey Hall was the B1G’s first two time All-American and she set a few standards in Ohio State women’s history that are still marks players try to beat. As much credit that can be given to coaching, it was Hall’s dominance in the B1G that gave them the power to win three straight B1G championships and compile an overall record of 102-20 and a 67-5 mark in the B1G.
The Cleveland Heights native is all over the record books. A force inside she was atop the scoring list with 1,912 points until Smith(2,578) came along, and held the single season(305) until Davenport(306) showed up and career(1,115) rebounding record until Lavender(1,422) arrived. At one point in her career she was in the top five of just about every category in OSU history and her jersey was retired for her efforts. She will be remembered by those who played against her as one of the best to ever don the scarlet and gray.
Nikita Lowery became the third All-American in 1989 after the success of Tracey Hall. She has the distinction of being the only non-starter to be in the top 15 of scorers in the B1G her sophomore year(13.6) and it gave a good look at her next two years on the hardwood. Lowry dominated the Big Ten as a junior. She led the conference in scoring (23.7 ppg), becoming the ﬁ rst OSU player to average more than 20 points in a season since Frani Washington in 1978-79. Lowry also paced the conference in ﬁ eld-goal percentage (.616) and steals (3.1 spg) and co-led in the rebounding column (8.4 rpg). Lowry’s “break out” year included a 28-point, 12-rebound performance to help OSU beat then-No. 1 Iowa (58-54).
If there is a stat in a record book somewhere, then Katie Smith has probably been listed in it. Considered by most as one of the best to ever lace up some high tops in women’s hoops, she has left a mark on that landscape that may never be forgotten. It’s easy for me to gush about her because she is my favorite female athlete in any sport in history and that says a lot because I am also a fan of Dara Torres (USA Olympic swimmer) and current WNBA superstar Diana Taurasi.
Currently with the Seattle Storm and an assistant with a special title for Jim Foster (Player Development), Katie began her life of basketball in Logan, Ohio terrorizing boys on the court. Needing the challenge as a fifth grader, she played on boys teams, and at a young age people knew she was going to be something special. She became a high school All-American for the Lady Chieftains and led them to a state title in 1992, in which she also participated in one of the first girls high school all-star games(WBCA).
She was the second two-time All-American for the women’s team, but is the only AA to lead her team to the NCAA title game where the Buckeyes lost to Texas Tech in 1993. She led the Lady Buckeyes in all four years she was there and repeated her AA efforts in her finest season in 1996. At the top or very close in ever category imaginable, she was the career leader in scoring with 2,578 points until Lavender came, FG’s made with 826 until Lavender and Davenport, 2nd in FG attempts with 1,763(3rd now). Was the leader in 3 FG made and attempted until the game caught up and gave us Marscilla Packer, Caity Matter and Samantha Prahalis(All in part two), 218 for 564 for a .387 which may be her lowest ranking in a category(8).
One place she may never be displaced is on the charity stripe. Always a hard-worker she knew the importance of free throw shooting and was the person getting to the line more times than not. In her career she was 708(#1) for 805(#1) for .838 (which really is #1). Her shooting percentage is topped by Caity Matter and Marscilla Packer, but they took 600 and 700 fewer free throws. To put it in perspective, Smith’s free throws made were 27% of her total points scored in her career, amazing.
Katie is at the top or near in every category for single season records as well and probably the most impressive one is the single season scoring mark established her senior season. 745 was the record she held until Lavender broke it in 2011 with 774. A three-time Gold medalist for Team USA, she has also been a seven-time WNBA All-Star, Two-Time WNBA champion, and became only the third player to pass the 6,000 point scoring mark in the leagues history. She has been honored with having her #30 retired at Ohio State, which was the first female athlete in OSU history to do so. She is a member of the OSU Varsity O HOF, and in 2005 she was the first female basketball player to score 5,000 points in a career. Takes every opportunity to sell Ohio State.
This era in Ohio State women’s basketball left an indelible mark in the history of women’s basketball. It possesses the only two players to have their jersey’s retired (hall and Smith) and the only team to make it to a championship game in 1993. It possessed the three coaches that set the standard for which coach Foster has broke(Wilson, VanDerveer and Darsch) and will forever be one of the most dominant programs in the B1G history.
In total, the Lady Buckeyes won or shared 11 B1G championships in the early era, even though four of them from the Wilson time doesn’t count. They won or shared the first five when they did start counting. Next week I will be covering the second era of women’s basketball from 1998 to present and go over the coaches and players during it that have kept the dominance going.