In celebration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX, here are nine—seven individuals and one dynamic duo—female athletes (of many), listed alphabetically, who have excelled at their chosen sports.
Jennie Finch started her softball career at the University of Arizona where she was recognized as an All-American pitcher and first baseman three times. She helped the Wildcats to the 2001 National title. In 2002, Finch set the record for consecutive games with an astounding 60. After having her jersey retired by the school, Finch took her talents to the United States national softball team. They went 9-0 in the 2004 summer Olympics, outscoring opponents 50-1 to take the gold medal.
Mia Hamm started her career early as the youngest national soccer team player in history at the age of 15 and the youngest to win a World Cup championship at 19 years old. She enrolled at the University of North Carolina (UNC) and led them to four NCAA women’s championships in five years. The team was 95-1 in games in which Hamm played. While at UNC, Hamm was named All-American and ACC player of the year three years in a row. Hamm’s career ended with two world cup titles and two Olympic gold medals. She retired as the all-time leading scorer in international play, male or female, with 158 goals.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee was inspired to participate in track & field events from a 1975 movie about Babe Didrikson. She took that inspiration and became one of the greatest female athletes of all time. Joyner-Kersee began as a star at UCLA in track & field and basketball. She won the silver medal in the heptathlon in the 1984 summer Olympics. At the 1986 Goodwill Games she became the first woman to score over 7,000 points in a heptathlon event. Carrying that momentum into the 1988 summer Olympics, Joyner-Kersee won gold medals in the heptathlon and the long jump. Her 7,291 points in that heptathlon is still a world record. Her success continued into the 1996 summer Olympics with another gold medal in the heptathlon. Joyner-Kersee ushered in a new era for female athletes and inspired many for years to come.
Lisa Leslie, the second all-time leading WNBA scorer started her on-court dominance back at Morningside High School in Inglewood, California leading them to a state championship as the top player in the country. Leslie continued at the University of Southern California (USC), setting Pac-10 records in scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots. After winning gold in the 1996 Olympics, she was one of the prime faces of the WNBA inaugural season in 1997, playing for the Los Angeles Sparks. Her career included two WNBA titles, three MVP awards, and four Olympic gold medals. Last year Leslie was recognized as one of the top 15 WNBA players of all time. She is currently a minority owner of the Sparks.
Nancy Lieberman, a basketball player known as “Lady Magic” because of her execution of the no-look pass, made her name at Old Dominion University. Lieberman led Old Dominion to consecutive championships in 1979 and 1980. She still holds the school record for assists (961). The fact that Lieberman played with boys until her sophomore year in high school made it an easy transition to become the first woman to play in an all men’s professional sports league—the United States Basketball League (USBL). After an initial WNBA stint with the Phoenix Mercury, she became the general manager and head coach of the Detroit Shock. In 2008, at 50 years old, she was the oldest player to play in the league. Another first came when Lieberman was named the head coach of the National Basketball Development Leagues (NBDL)’s Texas Legends, becoming the first woman to coach a men’s professional team.
Nancy Lopez was a 1976 All-American and the Female Athlete of the Year before dominating the LPGA Tour. She left the University of Tulsa after her sophomore year to become a golf professional. That year Lopez finished second at the U.S. Women’s Open. In her first full professional season, she won nine tournaments, five of which were in a row. Those feats earned Lopez LPGA Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year, and the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year. She is still the only person to earn all of those honors in the same year. Lopez’s career ended with 48 LPGA Tour wins and three LPGA Tour Major championships.
Maya Moore, the three-time high school basketball champion from Collins Hill High School embodies dominance. In her four-year career at UConn, she became the school’s all-time leading scorer (3036) while leading the Huskies to a NCAA record 90 consecutive wins and a career record of 150-4. On top of that, Moore holds the record for the most wins for a man or woman in NCAA history. After winning two titles for the Huskies, she was drafted into the WNBA by the Minnesota Lynx and turned a 13-21 franchise into a WNBA champion. Moore is also the first women’s basketball player (second female athlete) to be signed to Nike’s Jordan Brand.
Shannon Lee Miller is known as the most decorated gymnast, male or female, in United States history. She won five medals in the 1992 summer Olympics, giving her the highest medal count of any American athlete. Miller’s achievements include being the 1993 and 1994 World All-Around Champion. She followed that by winning the 1995 Pan-Am Games All-Around Champion award. In the 1996 summer Olympics, Miller won the gold medal for the balance beam while being a part of the gold medal winning team the “Magnificent 7.”
One cannot mention excelling in a sport without acknowledging the achievements of the Williams sisters—Serena and Venus Williams. They brought a new era of dominance to women’s tennis. Venus was the first black woman to become number one in the world during the Open Era. Her 21 Grand Slam titles are more than any active player other than her sister, Serena. In 2000 and 2001, Venus won four of the six Grand Slam singles tournaments. Serena, also a former number one player in the world, has raked in 27 Grand Slam titles. Serena is the most recent player to hold four Grand Slam singles titles at the same time, male or female. She is also the first player to win five Australian Open singles titles in the Open Era. Serena has won more career prize money than any other female athlete in history. The Williams sisters had many great battles against each other, including competing against each other in four straight Grand Slam singles titles. They also teamed up for two Olympic gold medals in doubles and 12 Grand Slam doubles titles.
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