The women of autumn sports

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, Ohio Northern University is sharing the stories of some legendary female athletes from the past. Discover how their participation in ONU Athletics influenced their future course.

From college player to college coach

Kim McGowan, BA ’12, was a top competitor on the Ohio Northern University women’s soccer team. Today, as the head coach at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, she is leading a new generation of collegiate football players.

At ONU, she made history as a member of the first women’s soccer team to make it to the NCAA Division III tournament and win an NCAA tournament game.

“I think it’s great that NCAA tournament play is now the norm (for ONU women’s soccer) and it’s just a matter of how far they can go,” she says.

Playing football at ONU gave McGowan lifelong friends and supporters. “Going back to campus, seeing old coaches and professors and knowing that they believed in a much younger version of who I am today is something I’m beyond grateful for,” she says. “I’m always proud to be a polar bear.”

Football is a “player game,” McGowan says, because there are no timeouts and no specific game schedules that always work. That’s what she loves about the sport. “The football game is viewed, trained and executed differently from all perspectives.”

Before assuming the position of head coach at Austin Peay, McGowan coached women’s soccer programs at Miami (Ohio) University, Hiram College and Agnes Scott College while overseeing programs at Olivet College and Thomas More University. Her philosophy as a coach is simple: work, compete, have fun.

“Your work speed and level of competition are completely controllable. I think you have the most fun when you work the hardest and compete at the highest level,” she says.

Never stopped running

Photo of Mandy (Miller) Yates as a cross country athlete

At Ohio Northern University in the late 1990s, and hasn’t stopped running since.

Mandy recalls that she was “very naïve about collegiate racing” when she qualified for the 1996 NCAA National Cross-Country Championship. Her ONU coaches not only prepared her mentally and physically to compete at this level, they also motivated her to keep striving for the stars.

Through the grounds, Mandy met lifelong friends and her spouse, brian yates, BSEE ’01. “Brian and I enjoyed running together so much that we decided to become running partners for life by getting married in 2002!”

ONU inducted Mandy, a 1997 All-American and one of the all-time greats of the cross-country program, into the Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011.

Today, Mandy is a pharmacist and also coaches the cross-country skiing team at her children’s high school in Florida. She and Brian continue to run together and both ran the 2011 Boston Marathon. Mandy also qualified and ran in the 2012 Marathon Olympic Trials. In recent years, the couple has started competing in a new type of race called SwimRun, which is a mix of a swim and a run.

“Running is a passion of mine,” says Mandy, “I love that running is something that everyone can participate in. Every runner can set their own goals and strive to achieve them. I love sharing my passion with my family and others in my community.”

Her advice to today’s ONU Cross Country student-athletes? “Life is a huge adventure. There will be great times and not so great times. Remember the best parts, learn from the others and move on. Most important of all – keep running!”

True passion for competitions and coaching

Maggi Williams, the first African American woman on ONU's volleyball team

Speaking of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, Maggi Williams, BA ’77, the first African American woman to serve on ONU’s volleyball team, says that “women’s sport has and must come a long way.”

She recalls wearing the same uniform for years and not having a proper mode of transportation for games in the ’70s. “And I will always remember leaving class and going to Ada Park to drive the tractor for softball prep!”

Maggi grew up in a family of 13 children and her father died of an aneurysm when she was just 12 years old. She was the first in her family to go to college, so she put a lot of pressure on herself to do well. She excelled in three sports at ONU: volleyball, basketball, and softball.

“I have been blessed to be coached by caring, professional and intelligent coaches who instilled great work habits, pride and knowledge about the sport and life,” she says. “(I met) so many caring and professional people on campus. I will always be grateful.”

Maggi put her gratitude into action and dedicated her entire career to being a caring teacher and coach. After ONU, she joined the staff at Sidney Local Schools (her hometown), where she coached softball (age five) and basketball (age 19), and taught health and physical education for 35 years. She then served as Assistant Director of Athletics and retired in May 2021 for a total of 43 years!

Maggi was inducted into ONU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1990. That fall, she was inducted into the Sydney High School Hall of Fame.

Her advice to ONU female athletes: ” Appreciate the many opportunities at the prestigious ONU, as the coaches and athletes have struggled to get them… And enjoy the ride!”

sisters in sports

Canoeula Sisters of ONU Volleyball

For the Kanukel sisters, their favorite highlight of ONU Volleyball was playing on the same team for two seasons.

Hannah (Kanukel) CreagerBSBA ’05 and Karlee (Kanukel) BadenhopBSBA ’07, also point to other amazing highlights such as OAC Regular Season Champs/Co-Champs, OAC Tournament Champs and appearing in NCAA tournaments six out of six years.

They are grateful for the strong women who paved the way for them to take up sport at a high level decades earlier.

Karlee says, “I have certainly been blessed to reap the rewards of those who pushed for Title IX over 50 years ago and endured the hardships of playing/coaching female athletes. Since then, we have seen a significant growth in women’s athletics from youth to pro, which has skyrocketed the level of competition.”

She adds that she wants to continue for her daughter. “I want her to know that she should never lose sight of what makes us exceptional, what makes us strong, what makes us women.”

Playing volleyball at ONU has taught the sisters life skills, including resilience, confidence, discipline and a growth mindset, they say.

“The family culture I was part of during my polar bear years helped shape me into the woman I am today,” says Hannah.

Adds Karlee, “I often tell people that my experiences at ONU have made me a better person.”

The two sisters have more in common than just volleyball. Both met their husbands at ONU and both have four children!

Mom knows best

Lisa McFadden supports her daughter Lea McFadden

Lisa McFaddenBS ’96, rummaged in her closet and lo and behold, she still had it: her 1995 sweater emblazoned with her ONU volleyball jersey number!

Lisa is thrilled to wear the sweater again, this time in . Lea, an exercise physiology major, is wearing the lucky number 13 on her jersey this season, the same number her mother wore.

For a mother and daughter, playing volleyball at ONU is something they will always cherish.

Lea says, “Playing volleyball at Ohio Northern University means being a part of something bigger than myself. I learned what it means to take responsibility, earn respect, value teamwork and seek commitment , while I am a student-athlete at ONU.”

Lisa adds, “While playing volleyball at ONU, a special bond just developed between teammates and coaches. Even if you haven’t seen a teammate for several years, you can just pick up where you left off.”

She continues, “I’m so proud to be a polar bear volleyball player and I think that pride multiplies when Lea is one too. I’ve told my kids so many stories about playing volleyball at ONU over the years. (My kids always tell me they’ve heard this story before, but I’ll keep telling it anyway – ha ha ha!) Now, one day, Lea will be able to tell her own stories to her children. It’s so cool to see her in #13. It brings back so many great memories for me!”

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