From the very first days of UCI, female students and administrators have blazed a trail in intercollegiate athletics. Here’s their story:
Intramural sports and physical education instruction for women at UCI started with the opening of the university in 1965 under the direction of eventual athletic director Linda Dempsay. By 1967-68, nearly 200 women were involved in UCI’s organized intramural sports, which included volleyball, badminton, basketball, bowling, softball, swimming and tennis.
In the spring of 1968, Anteater women entered intercollegiate competition for the first time, with the tennis team facing USC, UCLA and Cal State Fullerton while also taking part in the Ojai Tournament, where UCI’s Patti Hogan was the singles champion. The following year, swimming and volleyball were added to the women’s intercollegiate schedule.
In 1977, Linda Dempsay was named UCI’s athletic director, making her the first woman in NCAA Division I to hold that position. Steve Zylius / UCI
UCI five-time All-American Elisabeth “Buffy” Rabbitt helped cross country finish fourth in the 1990 NCAA championships, the highest finish in team history up to that point. UCI
In 1995, the women’s basketball team won the program’s first and only Big West Tournament title to date. UCI
Tanya Taylor, captain of the 2010 women’s soccer team, led the team to its first NCAA Sweet 16 Tournament and is the first UC Irvine’s women’s soccer player to be drafted to play in the Women’s Professional Soccer league. Steve Zylius / UCI
The women’s water polo team won its fourth consecutive Big West Tournament Championship in 2012 and went on to finish fourth at the NCAA Championships. Wayne Tilcock
In 2019, Paula Smith was named UCI’s director of intercollegiate athletics. She became one of 40 female Division I athletic directors in the nation. Steve Zylius / UCI
Highlights and achievements
1972: On June 23, Title IX was enacted into law, protecting people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance, including sports. The passage of Title IX opened many doors for girls and women in sports.
1973: The UCI women’s intercollegiate tennis and volleyball teams were able to hold regularly scheduled practices under the direction of qualified coaches after several years of going it alone. The two teams competed in the Southern California Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The national governing body at the time was the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.
1974: UCI started its first season of women’s basketball under head coach Dorene Cowart.
1976: Jean Nachand (tennis) became UCI’s first female student-athlete to earn All-America honors.
1977: Dempsay was named UCI’s athletic director, making her the first woman in NCAA Division I to hold that position. Lindsay Morse became the Anteaters’ first female athlete to win a national championship, as she claimed the AIAW tennis singles title. Morse and Nachand also received All-America distinction.
1979: Three divers – Wanda Boda, Beth Gerard and Jane Ward – became the women’s swimming & diving program’s first All-Americans.
1983: UCI won the inaugural Pacific Coast Athletic Association women’s cross-country championship. Not only was it the first women’s competition sponsored by the PCAA (renamed the Big West in 1988), but it was the start of an Anteater dynasty, as UCI won nine of the first 10 conference championships in the sport.
1984: UCI began its first season of women’s soccer. Cheri Graham claimed UCI women’s basketball’s first All-America honor.
1988: UCI women’s volleyball earned the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth.
1990: UCI women’s cross-country won the seventh of its league-leading 12 Big West Championships and finished second at the West Regional and fourth at the NCAA Championships. That stands as the highest NCAA finish by a women’s team in UCI history. Buffy Rabbitt also became the Anteaters’ first female three-time All-American.
1995: Women’s basketball won the program’s first and only Big West Tournament title to date, defeating Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton and Pacific as the No. 3 seed.
1996: Allah-mi Basheer became the second All-American in UCI women’s basketball history.
1997: Women’s soccer claimed its first Big West Tournament title.
2001: UCI added women’s golf, which has had two head coaches in program history: Kelly Crawford (2001-06) and Julie Brooks (2006-present).
2002: In its inaugural season, women’s golf won the first of its five Big West regular-season titles. Stella Lee claimed the individual title; and Walailak Satarak was named the conference’s golfer of the year, the National Golf Coaches Association Division I Freshman of the Year and an honorable mention All-American.
2003: Women’s volleyball made its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 15 years and won its first postseason match in a five-set victory over Missouri in the first round at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. The Anteaters finished with a single-season, school-record 24 wins – later matched in 2017.
2004: Women’s volleyball returned to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year. Kelly Wing was named the Big West Player of the Year and earned her second straight All-America honor.
2005: UCI swimming & diving claimed its first Big West team title. Women’s golf won its second Big West team championship and started a stretch of four straight conference titles (2005-08).
2006: Chelsea Nagata became UCI’s first swimmer to win three individual events at the Big West Championships. She claimed the title in the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly and 100-meter backstroke; in addition, she was part of the Anteaters’ Big West champion 200-meter medley relay team. Nagata also received the first of her two All-America honors.
2009: Women’s golf earned an NCAA at-large bid and tied for fourth at the West Regional to advance to the NCAA Championships for the third time in program history. Jane Chin, who was named the Big West Golfer of the Year, tied for third at regionals and went on to place among the top 20 at the NCAA Championships. Women’s water polo won the first of its eight Big West Tournament titles.
2010: Women’s soccer won the Big West regular-season championship and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, where the team advanced to the Sweet 16. The Anteaters defeated Arizona State in the first round and Wake Forest in the second round. CoCo Goodson and Tanya Taylor garnered the first All-America honors in program history. Women’s tennis won its first Big West Tournament title, defeating Long Beach State, 4-1, in the final to dethrone the six-time defending champions.
2011: Women’s soccer won the Big West regular-season championship and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. CoCo Goodson received her second career All-America award.
2012: Women’s water polo won its NCAA first-round game and placed fourth overall at the national championships. That matched the 1990 cross-country squad as the highest NCAA finish by a UCI women’s team.
2013: Women’s tennis went unbeaten in Big West matches, winning the regular-season title at 9-0. The team earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, where it advanced to the second round with a 4-2 victory over San Jose State.
2017: Stacey King became assistant athletic director for media relations. She is one of 30 women to head a media relations office among the 363 NCAA Division I institutions.
2019: Paula Smith was named UCI’s director of intercollegiate athletics. She became one of 40 female Division I athletic directors in the nation and the second at UCI, following Dempsay (1977-1983).
2022: UCI women’s athletics had three teams advance to the postseason. Soccer led the way, winning the Big West regular-season and tournament titles and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a 1-0 victory over No. 3 UCLA. Water polo claimed its eighth Big West Tournament championship and made its seventh NCAA appearance. And basketball earned the program’s first WNIT bid.
2022-23: Women’s soccer once again was a highlight of the fall, winning its second consecutive Big West regular-season title and advancing to the third round of the NCAA Championships for the second time in program history. And the women’s basketball team clinched the programs’s first Big West regular-season title, capping the regular season with a school record 16-2 league mark. The Anteaters earned the No. 1 seed in the Hercules Tires Big West Championships presented by The Hawaiian Islands. UCI currently has a school record 24 overall wins.
UCI women’s athletics by the numbers
44 Conference players of the year
32 Number of conference championships
22 Number of women in the UCI Athletics Hall of Fame
12 Number of conference tournament championships
1 Gold Medal winner (Jennifer Chandler, 1976, springboard diving)