Right From the Start
Jan. 30, 2007
Dynasty is an old term commonly used back when monarchies were the form of government. Monarchies consisted of a family and ruled in succession with the era often called a dynasty. Several prehistoric Chinese civilizations are often referred to as the earliest dynasties, however, fast forward a couple of thousands of years to the 1980's when the Ohio State women's basketball team undisputedly reined supreme atop the conference standings. After rattling off five consecutive Big Ten titles from 1983-87, the Buckeyes could stake claim to the first-ever Big Ten women's dynasty.
In those years, OSU was led by two different head coaches. Tara VanDerveer came to the Columbus in 1980 after a short stint at Idaho where she led the Vandals to the 1980 AIAW Championships. In her five-year tenure, the Indiana alum directed the Buckeyes to three straight conference championships and a 53-4 conference mark and 110-37 overall record. The two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year would later move on from Columbus and was succeeded by Nancy Darsch in 1985. Darsch hardly missed a step picking up a pair of conference titles the next two years to bring the Buckeyes total to five straight. Within that time, Ohio State named its first Kodak All-American in Tracey Hall. Hall started every game of her collegiate career and led the Buckeyes to their fifth-consecutive title her junior season. The Big Ten honored its first two-time All-American yet again in 1988 when she repeated as Player of the Year in her senior season.
Not only were the people involved and their accomplishments impressive, but much could be said about the timing of their success as well. It was a distinct era in which women were just starting to compete in a recognized environment. The NCAA sanctioned women's sports just two years before the Buckeyes claimed their first conference title in the Big Ten's first official season for women. Julie Plank was a senior that year. Plank, a walk-on to the program in 1979, had sat most of her freshman year until VanDerveer, a three-year starting Hoosier guard herself, took over during Plank's sophomore year and found something special in the point guard.
"Walking on at Ohio State was extremely tough and I think Coach VanDerveer saw how I valued commitment, hard work, a positive attitude and leadership, which were qualities that she also valued," said Plank. "She really gave me an opportunity and I am fortunate for that."
Plank would go on to lead the Buckeyes as a starting guard the next three years.
It was also a time in which everyone was competing on a level playing field. History and traditions were a thing of the future-not the past-and it was the Buckeyes who first started that winning history and tradition.
Quickly turning a 17-15 team in her first year at the helm into a 20-7 team the next season, VanDerveer looked for her Buckeyes to break out in the significant first season of the Big Ten in 1982-83. The Buckeyes hardly disappointed. Ohio State tallied a 15-3 conference record and a perfect 14-0 home record to share the title with Indiana and claim its first of five consecutive titles. Plank attests the moment was not lost on the first-ever Big Ten champs.
"It was something Coach VanDerveer made us aware of," said Plank. "Anytime you are the first of something it's exciting and anytime you are apart of history, it definably sinks in your mind."
The Buckeyes started the 1983-84 season right where they left off improving to a 17-1 conference mark that earned OSU the outright Big Ten title. VanDerveer was touted as the Big Ten Coach of the Year as Ohio State found itself in its first NCAA Tournament. Despite being the only Big Ten team to advance in postseason play, the Buckeyes dropped their first round game to Mississippi, 77-55. In just four short years, it was evident that VanDerveer had a knack of getting everything she wanted out of her players.
"Tara's very extreme high expectations are what make her so successful," said Plank. "I think there was nothing that she didn't feel we couldn't accomplish. She was very competitive and worked very hard and really wanted the best not just for herself and Ohio State but for her student-athletes. You always felt like you were special. She was not only afraid to ask for the best, but was not afraid to out work people and expected that commitment from everyone around her."
VanDerveer continued to push the Buckeyes the following year. Ohio State was a perfect 18-0 in Big Ten play and captured its third straight conference title. Led by Freshman of the Year Tracey Hall, the Buckeyes advanced to the postseason once again vaulting to the Elite Eight before falling to eventual national champion Old Dominion, 72-68. Ohio State finished seventh in the national rankings that year and Van DerVeer earned her second Big Ten Coach of the Year honor before leaving to take over a struggling women's basketball program at Stanford. Once again she resurrected a team with a dismal 9-19 record to national precedence. Plank followed her former coach where she served as an assistant for 10 years under her mentor.
Like VanDerveer before her, Darsch continued to improve each year. Capitalized by an Elite Eight appearance, the Buckeyes secured their fifth consecutive 20-win season and shared the conference title with Iowa after posting a 17-1 record for the 1987 season. In her junior season, Tracey Hall, the Big Ten Player of the Year, helped OSU knock off Oregon and Southern California before succumbing to Long Beach State in the regional final.
After the 1987 season, Ohio State by no means slunk away from competition. After taking a second-place finish in 1988, the Buckeyes earned their sixth Big Ten title the following year and remained in the top half of the conference standings. OSU won another title in 1993 and advanced to the NCAA Championship final against Vanderbilt. Darsch navigated the Buckeyes for 12 seasons until 1997, when she took the job as head coach for the WNBA's New York Liberty. After working in women's professional basketball for nine years, Darsch is currently in her first season as an assistant coach with the Boston College women's basketball program.
Today, the Buckeyes have returned to prominence as the 2006-07 ballclub is aiming for its third straight Big Ten Championship.
But at the beginning of Big Ten women's basketball, no other team dominated the conference scene as much as the Buckeyes did in those early years from 1983-87. The efforts of two phenomenal coaches, an administration that was dedicated to the support of its program and the hard work a group of players had all came together like a family to define the Ohio State women's basketball dynasty.