The book of Old Dominion women’s basketball history, as ESPN’s Vicki L. Friedman wrote in 2015, “is its own ‘War and Peace,’ a thick chronicle about a program that was a pioneer for all of women’s sports.”
And the first chapters of the pioneering epic were crafted in 1979 and 1980, when the Monarchs won consecutive national championships in AIAW — the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, founded in 1971.
Under head coach Marianne Stanley and led by superstar Nancy Lieberman, ODU compiled a 72-2 record during the two seasons, the sports moment judged the greatest in school history.
“You look for a model player and Nancy fits every way,” UCLA head coach Billie Moore told Sports Illustrated in 1979.
In 1976, Moore coached the first U.S. women’s silver-medal Olympic team, which included the 18-year-old Lieberman. “She is quick, very smart on the court, a good shooter, excellent jumper, very, very strong rebounder, aggressive, hard-nosed, very strong on defense. She just doesn’t have a weakness,” Moore added. “She does everything you can ask a player to do.”
Lieberman’s teammates included All-American Inge Nissen and Anne Donovan, who was a freshman during the 1979-80 season. A three-time All-American and 1983 Naismith National Player of the Year, Donovan became ODU’s first Hall of Famer. She was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995 and Lieberman joined her a year later.
“The crowds would come in to our games, and it didn’t matter if we played at UCLA, USC, Georgia, Queens college or Madison Square Garden, we were America’s Team,” Lieberman said in 2015. “Kids, little girls around the country, wanted to be Lady Monarchs.”
Their teams set the stage for future dynasties. ODU won its last national championship in 1985 and has appeared in the Final Four six times.
In 2015, the Monarchs became the fourth Division I team to amass 1,000 victories. They joined Tennessee, Louisiana Tech — the teams they beat in the 1979 and 1980 AIAW title games — and James Madison.
But it’s their legacy that matters most.
“I know I can’t play in the NBA,” Lieberman told SI in 1979. “Maybe I couldn’t make the ODU men’s team. That doesn’t matter. Look, we’ve worked hard to separate the two games. If people are looking for slam dunks and 30-foot jumpers, they’ll be disappointed in the women. The men are stronger and faster; they can rely on natural ability.
“But we use finesse; we run patterns. We depend on the fundamentals. The women’s game is incredible in its own right. And exciting. We scored more than 100 points in Madison Square Garden last year and won by 53. You think the fans were sitting on their hands? They were up, screaming. They loved us.”
On the cover and above: The 1978-79 Old Dominion women’s basketball team. Kneeling: Sue Brown, Sandy Burke, Debbie Richard, Sue Davy, Beth Campbell, Fran Clemente. Standing: Coach Marianne Stanley, Nancy Lieberman, Jan Trombly, Sue Richardson, Inge Nissen, Linda Jerome, Chris Critelli, Rhonda Rompola, Angela Cotman, Assistant Jerry Busone. (Courtesy Old Dominion University Archives)
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