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The Women’s Movement

A half century after Title IX became law, female student-athletes at NC State are thriving. Illustrations by Kate Miller.

When the NC State women’s cross-country team won the NCAA championship in Tallahassee, Fla., in 2021, part of the crowd there to cheer them on were members of the women’s soccer team. The soccer team had lost a second-round game in the NCAA tournament — the fifth consecutive year the team had made it that far in the tourney — in Tallahassee the day before, but stuck around to support their fellow women athletes.

For many NC State coaches, athletes and athletics administrators, that moment captured the synergy and energy they hope will lead to more Wolfpack championships. “It brought together the vision of what we’re trying to achieve here at NC State,” says Michelle Lee, the chief of staff and senior women’s administrator for the university’s athletics department. “It showed women’s soccer that it can be done. That was a pretty incredible moment.”

There have been plenty of incredible moments for many of the women’s teams at NC State over the past few years. Wolfpack fans celebrated in March when Raina Perez ’22 stole the ball and scored to give NC State the lead in the final seconds of a game against Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament to move on to the Elite Eight. And in May, fans heard that tennis players Jaeda Daniel ’21 and Nell Miller won the NCAA doubles championship — the program’s first-ever national championship. Again and again, the Belltower was lit red as women’s teams earned championships at the national level — both team and individual — and at the conference level.

The run of success comes as the world of sports is recognizing the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark law passed in 1972 that prohibits sex-based discrimination at any school receiving federal funding. The law kicked open doors and allowed female athletes in high school and college to compete and excel at the highest levels.

Seeing how that has played out at NC State makes Debbie Yow proud. Yow was the first woman hired as an athletics director in the ACC when she took the position at the University of Maryland in 1994, and then held the position at NC State for nine years before retiring in 2019. “I’m glad, in a way, that for the women of today . . . it’s hard to grasp what it was like in the beginning,” she says. “I’m glad that it’s so much better and that they have these opportunities. It’s a life-changing experience.”

Yow and Boo Corrigan, her successor as director of athletics, say they approach the women’s teams the same as the men’s — at least those that compete in the non-revenue, or Olympic, sports like swimming, track and field, and soccer. That includes trying to hire great coaches, recruiting student-athletes who are a good fit for NC State, providing teams with adequate resources and facilities, encouraging information sharing among coaches from different sports and celebrating success whenever it happens.

Corrigan says that touting each other’s success — whether that’s men’s basketball coach Kevin Keatts tweeting about a championship won by the women’s tennis team or the soccer team helping the cross-country team celebrate — is part of the culture that he thinks helps all teams and student-athletes.  “We talk about caring about the other person, liking each other, feeding off of each other’s success,” says Corrigan. “What are you doing to be collaborative?”

In 2021, NC State launched Wolfpack Women, an initiative to help raise money for women’s athletics teams, tell the stories of female athletes, and provide resources and opportunities. The group hosted a summit this year, addressing issues important to female athletes ranging from leadership to imposter syndrome, when high-achieving people downplay their abilities and feel like a fraud.  “Every time I looked at one of our student-athletes, they were so engaged,” says Stephanie Menio, deputy athletics director and a member of the committee that oversees Wolfpack Women. “They were locked in.”

Debbie Antonelli ’86, a former NC State basketball player who has built a career as a college basketball analyst for the likes of ESPN and CBS, was one of the speakers at the summit. “I am so proud of what NC State has done,” she says. “I love the way they are pushing women’s athletics forward.”

Corrigan says his greatest satisfaction may come from the signs of success that don’t show up in a box score or a record book. Such as what happened in Tallahassee last year, or when Wolfpack fans at a packed Reynolds Coliseum stuck around after the final home game of last year’s regular season — a blowout win over Syracuse — to celebrate a class of women’s basketball players who won three consecutive ACC tournaments.

“All those moments, that’s a big part of it,” Corrigan says. “Those moments don’t go away.”

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