35 Years Later, Memories Still Fresh for Women’s College Hoops Legend

Former women’s college basketball star Anne Gregory-O’Connell remembers with crystal clear clarity what it was like to be a female college athlete in the late-1970s.

Anne Gregory-O'Connell. (Courtesy of Fordham University)

Anne Gregory-O’Connell. (Courtesy of Fordham University)

“We actually got the men’s hand-me-down warm-ups and we thought we were totally cool because of it,” Gregory-O’Connell recalled. “My coach (Kathy Mosolino) really had to fight to even get us gym time to practice. That was just the way it was.”

The 1980 graduate of Fordham University was women’s college basketball’s all-time leading rebounder from her senior year in 1980 until 2009, when Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris surpassed her career total of 1,999.

Gregory-O’Connell posted remarkable career numbers along with her 1,999 rebounds (2,548 points, 200 blocks, .568 field goal percentage). The 6-foot-1 forward’s electrifying play not only helped her team’s cause on the court, but also forced people to pay attention to women’s college basketball during a time when women’s sports were anything but popular.

When the former hoops star thinks back to her time in the maroon and white, however, she does not dwell on the gender inequities she and her teammates endured, but rather the pride that comes from having laid the groundwork for what now exists for female athletes at Fordham.

“Even though we had to fight for everything we got, I’m proud of having been a part of that pioneer era for women’s sports,” Gregory-O’Connell, a member of Fordham’s second-ever women’s recruiting class to get athletic scholarships, said. “And I’m especially proud to see Fordham Women’s Basketball under Stephanie Gaitley now competing regularly on a national level and getting recognized for their success.”

After having advanced to the last two Atlantic 10 Conference championship games and winning the title last season, Fordham Women’s Basketball has risen out of obscurity and into the national conversation. The Rams have experienced back-to-back 25-win seasons under head coach Stephanie Gaitley, and are poised to contend for another championship this year. The winning tradition that Gaitley’s squad has reestablished in the Bronx reminds Gregory-O’Connell of the last time Fordham women’s hoops was an annual contender: her own playing days.

Gregory-O’Connell’s playing career at Fordham exhibited the most successful four-year run in program history, with the team recording 91 total wins from 1976-80, and winning the 1978 and 1979 Eastern Regional Championships. While becoming Fordham’s all-time leading rebounder, scorer, and blocker during this time, Gregory-O’Connell was not alone in her record-setting success. Her teammate, Mary Hayes, set the assists record, while Kathy Mosolino became Fordham’s winningest women’s basketball coach in school history. All of these records still stand today.

While each season that Gregory-O’Connell donned the Block F was memorable, the board-crashing legend considers her junior season, which saw her team advance to the equivalent of today’s Elite 8, as her favorite.

“We hosted the Regional Tournament at Fordham that year and we beat Long Beach State, who we were not supposed to beat at all,” stated Gregory-O’Connell, now a guidance counselor at Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville, New York. “Then we got to play against Tennessee and Pat Summit and that was just a huge thrill. We gave them a game.”

Gregory-O'Connell after her No. 55 was retired in 2009. (Courtesy of Fordham University)

Gregory-O’Connell after her No. 55 was retired in 2009. (Courtesy of Fordham University)

The Fordham Rams finished their magical 1978-79 season with a 27-7 record and the program’s only-ever Top 25 ranking, with a spot at #19. The ’78-’79 squad still holds six team records to this day, including the program’s highest single-season win total. These indelible marks prove that Gregory-O’Connell and her teammates are still the pride of the Rose Hill Gymnasium, even after nearly four decades.

“We had a really good team, a tremendous coach, excellent chemistry, and a really, really good time,” Gregory-O’Connell recollected.

Gregory-O’Connell became the first female athlete inducted into the Fordham Athletics Hall of Fame in 1986. Her No. 55 jersey is also one of just two permanently on display in the Rose Hill Gymnasium, as it was retired in 2009 alongside Fordham Basketball great Ed Conlin.

While the evidence of Gregory-O’Connell’s tremendous college basketball career now rests primarily in the record books and the rafters of Fordham’s primordial gym, the biggest proof of her supreme experiences on the hardwood is evident in her life.

“The discipline, hard work, and confidence I gained at Fordham followed me after graduation,” Gregory-O’Connell said. “And the friendships I made at that period in my life have been unbelievable and long-lasting since college. We all still get together and reminisce about the old times. It was an experience I truly wouldn’t trade for anything.”

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2015 Fordham Softball – Week 2

With Week Two now complete, we Rams are collectively excited to head into the final full-week of indoor practices before our games begin in Arizona. This week, we saw our batters dig in a little more in the box, our pitchers bring the heat in intersquad scrimmages, and our soreness diminish with each passing day in the weight room and at practice. We are working tirelessly in preparation for February 6th, and though we all have room for improvement at this stage in the season, progress is definitely being made. Catch a glimpse of our hard work (and fun) here:

2015 Fordham Softball – Week 1

Week One of Fordham Softball’s 2015 season is in the books! During our first week back from winter break, we Rams got back into the full swing of things, on and off the practice diamond in the Bronx. Amid physical soreness, early mornings, stuffy indoor practices, and the loss of our strength coach, we managed to have a great first week back and make strides in our preparation for the upcoming season. Check out this Week One, behind the scenes look into what it’s like to be a Fordham Softball player:

Aussie Female Cyclists Lose Cycling Australia, Gain Promising Alternative

The athlete and sports fan alike often have a funny way of explaining bad occurrences within the realm of competition. Such pitfalls are commonly attributed to a superstitious phenomenon that transcends space, time, and even sport: the jinx.

That’s why some could make the argument that Union Cycliste Internationale’s (UCI) new president Brian Cookson doomed women’s cycling when he recently named it “the fastest growing section of the sport.” Just three months removed from Cookson’s promising comment, women’s cycling took a devastating hit.

Rochelle Gilmore. (Courtesy of Wayne Taylor/The Age)

Rochelle Gilmore. (Courtesy of Wayne Taylor)

Earlier this month, Cycling Australia (CA) announced that its women’s program would be suspended indefinitely due to budgetary constraints within the organization. CA, which relies on public funding, is a feeder organization dedicated to the development of cyclists that serves as a pathway between amateurism and UCI professional teams in Europe.

Women’s cycling has had a proud tradition in Australia for decades, as several Aussie cyclists including Kathy Watt, Sara Carrigan, and Rachel Neylan have experienced great successes at both the Olympic and World Championship levels. While the Australian men’s development program remains intact, CA’s National Performance Director Kevin Tabotta insists that the removal of the women’s program is “not an issue of gender discrimination.”

Up-and-coming Australian cyclist Chloe Hosking recently denounced the removal of CA’s women’s program in a statement to the Sydney Morning Herald. The 24-year-old, who is currently one of Australia’s best female professional cyclists, believes that CA’s announcement will serve as a detrimental setback for the future of women’s cycling in Australia.

“I think it’s really, really upsetting for the young girls coming through,” Hosking said. “It means that if young riders want to get to Europe, they will have to pursue it themselves.”

Cycling Australia previously sponsored six-week invitational development programs in Europe for a group of promising amateur cyclists. Through the publicly funded program, road riders were exposed to the lifestyles and regimens of professional cyclists, and were also granted a stage on which to earn professional contracts.

Following CA’s announcement, however, former standout cyclist and women’s cycling advocate Rochelle Gilmore, who is currently the owner and manager of the British-based Wiggle Honda professional team, responded with a solution to bridge the gap to professional cycling for Australia’s top-amateurs.

Last week, Gilmore officially introduced her latest creation, the High5 Dream Team, which is a domestic cycling squad comprised of Australia’s eight most-promising amateur female riders. The Dream Team members are Kimberley Wells, Rebecca Wiasak, Jess Mundy, Georgia Baker, Tessa Fabri, Kendelle Hodges, Ellen Skerett, and Sam de Riter.

“(They) are the best that Australia has who aren’t already on pro teams,” Gilmore, a former Commonwealth Games champion, stated.

Gilmore’s girls will make their debut ride at the end of January in Australia’s most prestigious elite women’s competition, the National Road Series. They will be coached by one of the most experienced coaches in the sport in Donna Rae Szalinski, and partake in 10 televised races within Australia during 2015. Gilmore will give her handpicked riders the opportunity to continue what CA started.

“What we’re going to do is create an environment for these athletes where they have the best equipment, the best of everything,” Gilmore said. “These athletes will be supported better than any other domestic-based athletes have been supported before.”

Of the eight High5 Dream Team members, Gilmore plans on sending either five or six of them to Europe on a fully-funded development trip in August. Following the model set forth by CA, Gilmore’s chosen ones will endure a six-week riding-intensive program in preparation for life in the professional cycling circuit.

While CA and Australia’s state cycling institutes have offered to partially support the High5 Dream Team’s financial needs, Gilmore will rely on team partners to help foot most of the bill to support her squad. The High5 Dream Team’s partners have committed to three year deals, and will cover equipment costs, as well as travel and living expenses for the riders.

So, have hope, cycling fans. With Gilmore leading the way for Australian women’s cycling, and a continued push for the development of budding riders being made, don’t expect any sort of jinx to thwart Aussie female cyclists in 2015. Rather, anticipate a breakaway from the pack and a surge towards great success in the future of the sport in the land down under; a reverse of the curse, so to speak, for you superstitious folk.​ That is, at least, if Gilmore has anything to say about it.

NPF “Charges” Toward Expansion, Establishes Team in Dallas

Texas is a place where warm weather and southern hospitality are as common as the state’s appreciation for the game of softball. That is why it made perfect sense when the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) officially adopted the Lone Star State as the home of its newest team, the Dallas Charge, on Jan. 8.

NPF Commissioner Cheri Kempf announced that the Charge would join the league as its fifth affiliate team, and will play its home games in the Dallas/Fort Worth area at two separate locations in McKinney and Arlington. The Charge will compete against the NPF’s four other teams—the defending champion USSSA Pride, Chicago Bandits, Akron Racers, and Pennsylvania Rebellion—when play resumes at the end of May.

The addition of the Charge is big news for the NPF, which has traditionally struggled to retain franchises and maintain ticket sales over the past ten years. The league was founded in 1997, folded in 2001, and then relaunched again in 2004.

After a decade marked with folding and moving franchises and a general lack of growth within the league, the NPF now has legitimate reasons to be excited about the future of professional softball.

Fresh off its best-ever year of television coverage in 2014, during which ESPN and the CBS Sports Network covered a combined 30 games during the three-month summer season, the NPF experienced a great surge in attendance and social media attention. Kempf believes these advances, along with the opening of a new market for professional softball, could help take the league to new heights.

“With increased attendance in all markets in 2014, along with the sheer volume of our television coverage, we realize expansion will naturally happen, but to be able to permeate into one of the nation’s hotbeds for fastpitch softball makes this addition really special,” said Kempf, the NPF’s commissioner since 2007.

Don’t let the state’s nickname fool you, however, as Texas has been anything but a “Lone Star State” for softball talent. Whether in the amateur, college, or professional ranks, Texas has been known for generating quality products on its softball diamonds for decades.

Some of the sport’s best homegrown stars have been cultivated and developed at both the University of Texas and Texas A&M University, which are annually among the top teams in Division I college softball. Players like two-time Olympic gold medalist Christa Williams, All-Americans Amanda Scarborough, Blaire Luna, and Taylor Hoagland, as well as Cat Osterman, who is arguably one of the best pitchers to ever play the game, all hail from Texas and completed their illustrious college softball careers there.

With less than five months remaining until the first pitch of the NPF season, Dallas’ General Manager Kevin Shelton is hard at work assembling his team and coaching staff, with the help of marketing consultant and former NPF-great Jami Lobpries.

Shelton gained his experience in team operations while at the helm of the Texas Glory youth organization, which is one of the premiere travel softball programs in the country. Lobpries, a native of Texas and former standout player at Texas A&M, has her Ph.D. in sports marketing and branding in women’s sports, and will decide the Charge’s marketing strategies and development methods going forward.

“The NPF is growing and we are pleased to be a part of that growth to provide these gifted women a chance to compete in the sport they love as professionals,” the league’s newest GM said. “North Texas has a vibrant fastpitch community. I am confident that our entire area will benefit from a professional women’s fastpitch team’s presence.”

“Adding a team in Texas is a huge step towards growth in professional softball and the sport in general,” Lobpries, the four-year veteran of the NPF stated. “As a former NPF player and someone passionate about our sport, it’s exciting to help build a new organization in my home state and be a part of growing the game.”

If everything really is bigger in Texas, then the NPF could have found the golden market for professional softball that it has long been searching for. And if that is the case, the growth of the sport is just getting started.

As Clock Winds Down, “Turf War” Remains Stagnant

The ringing in of a new year often marks a time for change and progress to occur on both small and large scales. It is typically a time when resolutions are set, and steps are taken toward the betterment of oneself and others. For FIFA, the governing body of soccer, however, its 2015 resolutions don’t appear to include the betterment of its female players participating in this summer’s World Cup.

With just five months left until kickoff, the troubled landscape—both physical and political—of the upcoming tournament in Canada remains virtually unchanged. Since March 2013, some of the biggest names in women’s soccer, including America’s Abby Wambach, Spain’s Veronica Boquete, and Germany’s Nadine Angerer, have spoken out against FIFA’s implementation of artificial playing surfaces for the sport’s biggest tournament. In October, a lawsuit was filed by the players and a full-on “turf war” was waged against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association under the grounds of gender discrimination.

The players’ case is highlighted by the fact that all 26 previous World Cups, including both the women’s and men’s tournaments, have been played on grass. Also, the upcoming men’s World Cups in Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022, respectively, will be played on grass surfaces.

Besides these details, the female soccer stars have posited that a turf playing surface will change the way the game is traditionally played, increase the risk of injury, and diminish their value as players in front of an international audience. The change from turf to grass in the tournament’s six stadiums would cost FIFA roughly between $3 and $6 million, which is just a fraction of the organization’s exorbitant yearly earnings.

Since the lawsuit was filed in October, FIFA and the C.S.A. have gone to great extremes to freeze the players’ efforts for change. Whether ignoring mediation efforts, refusing to address the situation as a gender issue, or presenting reprisals for players involved in the lawsuit, soccer’s head honchos are not-so-stealthily attempting to thwart the mission of their female representatives.

When asked by reporters recently if the Canadian Soccer Association has considered any logistical data regarding the switch from turf to grass, C.S.A. president Victor Montagliani’s response was a telling indication about where the organization stands on the issue.

Montagliani answered, “There has been no need.”

While the switch from turf to grass is still possible, each passing day makes it less probable for the change to occur in-time for the summer tournament. Unless the soccer higher-ups have a change of heart and decide to properly mediate with the female players about their requests, an upcoming trial will be imminent and could cause the hourglass to run out on the case.

Juliet Macur of the New York Times reported in December, however, that the desired pitch-changes could take less time than people think.

Macur stated, “Turf experts say they could start growing new sod by April or May and install it in time for the World Cup opener in June.”

Macur also reported that the use of existing sod could reduce the preparation time to just two or three weeks before the tournament, and further, if pre-grown grass is transported on movable trays, it could be implanted onto the fields just before kickoff.

Despite the plausibility of these options, the timeliness of the case is still one of the foremost concerns of the players, especially due to the inaction of FIFA and the C.S.A. regarding the lawsuit.

Yet, a small victory was recently won for the women’s World Cup participants, when the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruled in mid-December that FIFA and the C.S.A. had three weeks to respond to an amended suit involving allegations of reprisals against the players. While the amendment does not guarantee action in favor of the players, it forces the governing bodies to make some sort of timely acknowledgment to the case.

As the case proceeds into 2015, women’s soccer’s elite will surely be met with disregard and challenges from soccer’s governing bodies, as well as backward-thinking members of the media.

Case in point: Sports columnist Chris Rattue from the New Zealand Herald recently ranted about the turf war with an ad hominem piece attacking female athletes for their inferior genes. Rattue trivialized the turf conflict at hand by reducing it to an unnecessary issue created by bitter women who have an ax to grind with men.

Rattue said, “There is also a simmering resentment in women’s sport about its treatment which sometimes manifests itself in wanting to prove it is the equal of men. Genetics makes this impossible.”

The subjective and opinionated nature of Rattue’s attacking claims continued when he stated, “As with almost all team sport, top-level women’s football will never be as good to watch as top-level men’s football as we know it. Men are stronger and more dynamic. Call me a sexist pig, but the A-League – which isn’t exactly world class – is better to watch than any women’s football I’ve seen.”

Kate Fagan of espnW disputed Rattue’s claims in a poignant and fact-focused piece, unlike that of the self-proclaimed “sexist pig.”

Rattue’s comments, coupled with the inaction of FIFA and the C.S.A., draw attention to issues beyond the World Cup that loom heavily over women’s sports today. Issues of sexism and inequality, dogmatism and bigotry, still pervade through the 21st century sports landscape for female athletes.

While the start of a new year typically signifies a time when improvement and progress are dominant forces within a society, that is not the case for today’s most-talented women’s soccer players, who find themselves stymied by sexism and disregard. At the mercy of old-world thinkers and the rulings of the court, they are pitted against both time and obstinate philosophies in their collective quest for change.

And though the sand keeps moving through the hourglass, it doesn’t always mean progress is being made.