On June 23, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law, opening the door for women’s sports to take center stage in the United States. That major victory was just the first step for American women, but 50 years later, its impact is surely felt around the country.
WVU’s athletics department offered its first women’s varsity sports in 1973. As recalled by WVU’s John Antonik, WVU’s first teams started with very little. Decades later, some of its programs have grown into some of the nation’s elite, and the women who made that happen have become some of the most impactful in the University’s history.
Here’s a look at the women who have made that happen over the last 50 years:
Virginia “Kittie” Blakemore
Without her, none of this would have been possible. When Title IX was adopted in the summer of 1972, Blakemore requested a meeting with Leland Byrd, the University’s new Director of Athletics, to discuss the prospect of adopting women’s sports.
Through her persistence and years of preparation, as well as that of Martha Thorn and Dr. Wincie Ann Carruth, the trio became the Founding Mothers of WVU women’s sports. On April 10, 1973, the WVU Athletic Council gave its final approval for women’s sports, and its first programs would start the following year.
With a budget of just $1,000, Blakemore became the first women’s basketball coach at West Virginia, leading the program for 19 seasons. She racked up a record from 301-214, including an A-10 tournament championship in 1989, a regular season A-10 championship in 1992, and two trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Her impact was felt far beyond the basketball court as well. Blakemore was a faculty member at WVU from 1960 to 1997 and worked in the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics until her retirement. Even outside of Morgantown, she was a member of several committees — from the regional to NCAA level.
Blakemore passed away in August of 2020 at the age of 91.
While Blakemore took control of the basketball team, Thorn assumed the head coach position of the University’s tennis program — a post she held for 27 years.
Like the hoops squad, Thorn started Mountaineer tennis with a budget of just $1,000. That was enough to build the program up, as she became the fourth coach in program history to earn 300 wins in any sport, finishing her career with 315 victories. Thorn also coached six All-Atlantic 10 athletes and led her team to a second-place finish in the conference in 1986. In 1997, WVU renamed its annual tennis tournament to the Martha Thorn Invitational, then in 2000, the legendary coach retired.
In addition to her work on the tennis court, Thorn was an assistant professor and lecturer at the School of Physical Education, which is now known as CPASS. She was inducted into the CPASS Hall of Fame in 2006.
Thorn passed away in 2021 at the age of 83.
Dr. Wincie Ann Carruth
Carruth sat alongside Blakemore in her fateful meeting with Leland Bird after years working alongside the future basketball coach. The long-tenured professor spent years compiling data, memos, names and phone numbers to lay the framework for what would eventually become WVU’s women’s athletics.
She retired in 1973 as the program was set to take off the following fall.
Dr. Carruth’s impact is still felt on campus today as the University’s Carruth Center for Counseling and Psychological Studies resides on the Evansdale campus.
Kelly was one of the first female athletes on campus, beginning her career as a Mountaineer rifle shooter in that 1973-74 academic year. She competed for four seasons, and in 1977, Kelly became the first woman to be named an All-American at WVU.
A star basketball player for Blakemore in the 1980s, Parson holds some of the program’s likely unbreakable records. She racked up 2,113 points in four years for the Old Gold and Blue — a mark only yet bested by Jerry West and Rod Hundley.
In 1982, Parson led the Mountaineers to their first-ever 20-win season, scoring 20.7 points per game and notching a career-high 35 points twice during the campaign. The following season, she assumed the captaincy and led the team to its second straight winning campaign, earning all-conference honors in the process.
By the end of her career, she was a three-time Mountaineer MVP. Parson then went on to try out for the Harlem Globetrotters before playing one professional season with the Virginia Wave.
Parson then went on to begin her extensive coaching career, which she continues to this day. She took her first head coaching job at Christopher Newport University in 1988, where she stayed for 10 years before taking an interim coaching job with the Washington Mystics. She has also coached at Howard, Frostburg State and Stratford, and now leads Central State’s women’s basketball team.
In 1983, Parson became the first woman inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.
While most Americans will recognize her younger sister Mary Lou, Shari Retton compiled a rather extensive resume in the world of gymnastics as well.
Retton led the 10th-seeded Mountaineers to a third-place finish at the national championships as a freshman, earning third-place honors in the all-around as well. She competed for WVU for four years, and in 1982, became the University’s first-ever women’s sports All-American as she earned first-team honors in the all-around, floor exercise, uneven bars and vault.
Wells not only holds a spot in WVU’s history but also in the lore of the sport of basketball.
In a game against Charleston on Dec. 21, 1984, she became the first women’s college basketball player to dunk in a game, instantly catapulting her to national celebrity status. That wasn’t the only highlight of her career, however, as she averaged a double-double over four seasons and still dominates the program’s record books for blocked shots — she is the only Mountaineer woman to earn block double-digit shots, doing so three times, while holding 17 of the best 21 single-game performances in that stat category.
Wells toured with the Harlem Globetrotters among other basketball ventures before playing in Japan for six years and coaching in Europe from 1992-2003.
Arguably the best woman to ever play basketball for the Mountaineers, Kosiorek led the program to some of its most memorable victories across her four-year career.
Her impact was felt from her freshman year when she led WVU to an Atlantic 10 tournament victory and its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. By her junior year, she was leading the league in scoring and assists, garnering an All-America honorable mention.
Kosiorek led WVU to a 22-game win streak during her senior year in 1992 as the Mountaineers topped the A-10 with just three losses in the regular season. She finished the campaign averaging 24-3 points and 6.8 assists per game — the latter of which is still a school record — en route to a finalist nod for the Margaret Wade Trophy. WVU earned a 4-seed in the big dance and made a run to the Sweet 16.
Kosiorek was inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame in 1992.
Quackenbush was one of the most dynamic Mountaineers in school history, earning seven All-America honors over two sports.
As a gymnast, Quackenbush earned five perfect 10 scores in her career, including two in a single meet in 1997. She was a six-time All-America selection in her first three seasons as she earned a third-place finish at the 1996 NCAA Championship.
The following season, Quackenbush was recognized as the national collegiate gymnast of the year when she received the AAI American Award — the first for any WVU gymnast. That accompanied a plethora of awards that came at the state, regional, conference and national levels.
As a fifth-year senior, she took her talents to the track and field program, competing in the pole vault. Her talents translated, as she earned an All-America honor at the 1998 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Quackenbush was inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.
Izzo-Brown built the WVU women’s soccer team from a fledgling start-up program into a national powerhouse, becoming one of the most successful coaches in school history over three decades.
After getting the call from Athletic Director Ed Pastilong to become the first coach in 1995, she immediately shattered expectations with a fifth-place finish in the Big East. By 2000, the Mountaineers were nationally-ranked and earned their first Big East division title. They also made their first trip to the NCAA Tournament, sparking a streak of 21 straight appearances through the 2020-21 season.
That streak peaked in 2016, arguably the strongest season in program history. Led by the duo of Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan, WVU lost just one game in the regular season and swept the Big 12 en route to its first-ever appearance in the College Cup.
Izzo-Brown has facilitated plenty of success for her players, as well. 31 Mountaineers have signed professional contracts, and 42 have made appearances for their national teams.
One of the greatest champions in WVU history, Thrasher thrived on the world stage when she earned Olympic gold in the Rio 2016 games. Her score of 208.0 in the final of the 10m air rifle set a new Olympic Record and beat the silver medalist by one point.
She was just as successful back in Morgantown. From 2015-19, she earned twelve All-American Honors and led the Mountaineers to two national championships, logging a pair of individual titles in the process.
Now, Thrasher serves as an athlete advisor for the Country Roads Trust, helping student-athletes take advantage of name, image and likeness opportunities during their careers.
Now one of the top women’s footballers in the world, Buchanan’s prowess was apparent from her early years in Morgantown. She started 90 games for the Mountaineers as a center-back, scoring eight goals and logging nine assists. She peaked in the historic 2016 run, leading WVU to the College Cup and earning the Hermann Trophy, awarded to the top soccer player in the country.
Buchanan has had much more success outside of Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium, however. In 2015, she earned the Best Young Player at the 2015 World Cup as she competed for Canada. Since then, she has become one of her country’s premier players, recording 116 caps while lining up to take the captain’s armband from Christine Sinclair. In 2020, she helped lead Canada to an Olympic gold medal.
She just made the move from Olympique Lyonnais to Chelsea FC, leaving behind a successful club stint in France. Buchanan helped Lyon, the country’s elite club, to 13 trophies, including five UEFA Women’s Champions League titles — the pinnacle of European soccer.
Competing both alongside and against Buchanan was the fellow Mountaineer Lawrence, also a star for Canada. In 2021, however, she solidified herself as one of the best players in women’s soccer.
Lawrence was a two-time All-American at West Virginia and was another key piece to the memorable 2016 squad, and has gone on to a parallel career with Buchanan. She has 105 caps for Canada, and regularly went head-to-head with her former collegiate teammate in France as a member of Paris Saint-Germain.
She has helped PSG to three trophies, including a Division 1 Feminine title in 2020-21. In December, she was nominated for the Ballon d’Or, the most prestigious individual award in professional soccer, finishing eighth in the trophy’s voting.
Special thanks to John Antonik, whose insight contributed to this list.