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Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX: The best to ever play the games for Arizona

Arizona v Stanford Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Title IX was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972. It became a sweeping piece of legislation that covered all parts of education. It banned the past practice of forcing married or pregnant women and girls from school. It required that classes not be set aside for one sex, allowing girls to take classes like shop and boys to take home economics or typing in school districts that had previously sex-segregated those classes. It also had a huge impact on sports, requiring that schools that received federal funding, including federal student loans, allow girls and women to participate.

While the purpose of Title IX had a more general focus of allowing women and girls access to all parts of education, the law is most commonly discussed in regards to its sports-related provisions. It resulted in an explosion of women’s athletics that first impacted women and girls of the late Baby Boom generation and early Generation X.

It has had an even bigger impact on millennials and Generation Z athletes, though. These are women and girls who never knew a time when girls couldn’t play. Billie Jean King Enterprises notes that high school participation by girls has increased by 1,057 percent since the law’s passage. At the college level, it has increased by 614 percent.

Arizona Athletics will mark the passage of Title IX with a day-long celebration at the Cole and Jeannie Davis Sports Center on Thursday, June 23. Later this summer, Arizona also plans to announce a new women’s sport to be added to the 11 currently sponsored by the department.

Arizona Athletic Director Dave Heeke said the athletic department began looking at its sports offerings in terms of gender equity before the pandemic. They hope to announce the addition before the 2022-23 academic year begins in August.

The law is what gave some of the best to ever play the game the opportunity to do so, and will give even more Wildcats an opportunity in the future. In honor of that, we look back on some of the best athletes who wore the cardinal and navy.

Women’s Basketball: Aari McDonald, point guard (2017-2021)

A fortuitous coaching change at Washington gave Pac-12 rival Arizona the best player in its women’s basketball history. In 2016, Adia Barnes, the previous best-to-ever-play at Arizona, came back to Tucson to take over a foundering women’s basketball program.

Barnes had been an assistant at Washington after retiring from her professional playing career. While there, she recruited Aari McDonald, a small, speedy point guard from Stockton, Calif. by way of Fresno. She was very close to Barnes, but McDonald kept her commitment to UW head coach Mike Neighbors and spent her freshman season in Seattle playing alongside Kelsey Plum and Chantel Osahor. When Neighbors jumped ship in 2017 to go home to Arkansas, McDonald also left.

“I’m a loyal person,” McDonald said during her redshirt sophomore year at Arizona.

After her head coach left, she decided that her loyalty could be satisfied by following Barnes to Arizona. Under the old transfer rules, McDonald had to sit out the 2017-18 season, a year when the Wildcats won just six games. Barnes often noted that she would look at her team in practice and know what could happen if she had her three transfers on the court on game day.

The next year, those three transfers—McDonald, Dominique McBryde, and Tee Tee Starks—were on the court. Arizona won the 2019 WNIT in front of a sold-out crowd in McKale Center.

The following season, the Wildcats were on their way to a high seed and homecourt advantage when the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the pandemic. It was a turning point that pushed McDonald back to school for another year despite her desire to go pro.

It was worth it. McDonald led the Wildcats to within a point of the national title in 2021, playing the central role in taking down Texas A&M, Indiana, and the vaunted Connecticut Huskies, before falling to Pac-12 rival Stanford in the national championship game.

One of Arizona’s program mottos is Leave A Legacy. McDonald left hers, becoming the first Wildcat taken in the WNBA lottery and setting the program on a path that led to its first top-10 recruiting class according to ESPN. Her tenure led to a rabid local interest in women's basketball, making Arizona No. 1 in the Pac-12 for attendance in 2021-22.

McDonald was inducted into the Arizona Ring of Honor at the beginning of the 2021-22 season.

Softball: Caitlin Lowe, centerfielder (2003-2007)

Caitlin Lowe was voted one of the three best outfielders ever in 2020 by ESPN college softball fans despite the list being a fairly strong example of recency bias. In the same year, she was included in a list of the all-time best from Arizona by in a group that truly represented the great history of Arizona softball.

Lowe won two national titles with Arizona. She then went on to play professionally and for Team USA before turning to coaching.

Lowe climbed the ladder on the Arizona coaching staff from an administrative position to an on-field assistant position to associate head coach. With the retirement of the legendary Mike Candrea in 2021, she was named the Wildcats’ head coach.

After a trying regular season, she led her team to the 2022 Women’s College World Series in her first year as a head coach. The Wildcats had dropped out of the polls by early May, but Lowe helped them regroup and end the year ranked seventh in both the ESPN/USA Softball and USA Today/NFCA polls.

Some might argue that pitcher Jennie Finch is Arizona’s best. There’s certainly a valid debate to be had, especially since Finch was the National Player of the Year in both 2001 and 2002. Finch also inspired scores of girls in Tucson to take to the diamond. It’s hard not to go with the woman who literally tried to run through walls—and even succeeded once—for Candrea and the Wildcats, though.

Volleyball: Kim Glass, outside hitter (2002-2005)

Want to know who holds just about every Arizona program offensive record available for an outside hitter? It’s Kim Glass, who accomplished the tasks without being in the top 10 for sets played in a career or a season.

Her career kills are at 2,151, over 200 more than Madi Kingdon Rishel at No. 2. Her 650 kills in 2003 are No. 1 for kills in a season, and Glass holds three of the top four positions in that stat.

Glass averaged 5.27 kills per set over her entire career, which is also No. 1 for Arizona. All four seasons of her college career are top six in the Arizona records for k/s in a season, including both No. 1 and No. 2. She joins Kingdon Rishel and Melissa McLinden as the only three Arizona volleyball players to average more than five k/s in a season. She had at least 20 kills in 54 matches over her career, placing her first for matches with 20+ kills.

Arizona went 81-44 overall and 7-4 in four NCAA Tournament appearances during Glass’ time in Tucson. The team made two Elite Eights, including her senior season when the Wildcats finished 25-6, tied for second in the Pac-10, and ranked No. 7.

Glass’ jersey hangs in the rafters of McKale Center on account of being named the National Freshman of the Year in 2002.

Soccer: Jill Aguilera, forward (2016-2021)

Arizona’s career leader in goals scored just completed her Arizona career. Jill Aguilera went through the trials of COVID-19 disruption and a coaching change to become the most accomplished player Arizona soccer has seen.

The final goal of her career gave her the program’s career record of 33 and lifted her team to a victory over the rival ASU Sun Devils.

“I don’t think you can ever truly replace someone like that,” head coach Becca Moros said. “Jill’s journey from when she first got here to where she was when she finished and graduated, that was a process for her growth and development and building herself into the powerful player that she was when she finished here.”

Aguilera was on the Chicago Red Stars’ roster in the NWSL this season.

Gymnastics: Heidi Hornbeek (1996-2000)

“Please don’t discount the gymnasts that built this program,” former Arizona gymnastics coach Bill Ryden wrote in an email in 2021. “I know, I have the results and I coached them.”

One of the gymnasts who built the program during Ryden’s tenure at Arizona was Heidi Hornbeek. After spending time with the U.S. National Team in 1992-93, she burst onto the college scene as a freshman in 1996, capturing the national title on floor exercise. She was a six-time All-American for the GymCats. As a senior, she was honored with the AAI American Award which goes to the top senior gymnast in NCAA gymnastics.

Hornbeek was inducted into the University of Arizona Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. She is one of the few Arizona athletes to not only be in the Ring of Honor but to also have her uniform retired and placed in the rafters of McKale Center.

Hornbeek went on to become a surgeon. She passed away at the age of 36 in December 2013.

Swimming and Diving: Amanda Beard, swimming (1999-2001) and Delaney Schnell, diving (2017-2022)

When Amanda Beard was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2018, Arizona’s press release noted her achievements.

“As a Wildcat, Beard was a 10-time All-American and won an individual NCAA title. She set the school record in the 100 breast (59.73) and 200 breast (2:07.98) during her tenure.”

Beard first made the U.S. Olympic team far before she came to Tucson. She was just 14 years old when she debuted, a year after she emerged as the best female breaststroker in the country. She competed in four Olympic games, earning seven total medals to become the most decorated Olympic athlete in Arizona history.

This is another one that could be debated. Whitney Myers, Lacey Nymeyer, and Justine Schluntz all had longer careers at Arizona since Beard opted to go professional after her second season. Schluntz and Nymeyer helped the Wildcats to a national title in 2008. They also were all honored with the NCAA Woman of the Year award in 2007 (Myers), 2009 (Nymeyer), and 2010 (Schluntz).

Diver Delaney Schnell is a story of hometown girl made good. The Tucson High Magnet School product was the Women’s Pac-12 Diver of the Year for the 2021-22 season, her second straight honor as the best female diver in the conference. That came after earning a silver medal in the 10-meter synchronized platform at the delayed 2020 Olympic Games in the summer of 2021.

Schnell won the 1-meter and platform events at the Pac-12 Championships in both 2021 and 2022. She also set a program record in the 3-meter, scoring 388.70 in 2022.

At the 2022 NCAA Championships, Schnell earned All-American honors in the 1-meter, 3-meter, and platform events. She placed fifth in the 1-meter, fourth in the 3-meter, and second in the platform.

Schnell was named an All-American a total of nine times in her career on 1-meter, 3-meter, and platform.

Track and Field: Tanya Hughes, high jump (1990-1994)

Who beats a four-time national champion? That’s what Tanya Hughes was in her four years at Arizona. She took one indoor high jump title in 1991 and three outdoor titles in 1991, 1992, and 1993. She also represented the U.S. in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.

Hughes held the Arizona high jump record for 19 years until it was finally broken in 2012 by Brigetta Barrett. She also held the U.S. junior record for 15 years.

Her career at Arizona garnered her the 1994 NCAA Woman of the Year award and induction into the Pac-12 Hall of Honor in 2022.