BLOOMINGTON – Among Indiana University’s 25 total national championships is a remarkable collection of individuals and teams, hall-of-fame athletes and coaches alike who changed their respective sports.
Men’s football is the one that has won the most. Men’s basketball is probably the most famous. But one of the most dominant among them is not an NCAA championship at all.
In 1982, Lin Loring IU women’s tennis The team was in the midst of one of the most remarkable races in departmental and even Big Ten history. Collectively, Loring’s seven-woman roster would finish their time together 103-1 in Big Ten play. Multiple players earned All-America individual honors, and the Hoosiers’ No. 1 that season, Heather Crowe Conner, would reach the third round of that year’s US Open.
Collectively, they won a national championship, to this day IU’s only national title in a women’s sport.
“I think in the ’80s and early ’90s, all those teams were so dominant, but it was really before the internet, and they didn’t have the exposure (modern stars do),” Loring said. “We were the beginning of women’s varsity sports.”
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In fact, the championship itself slightly predates the NCAA’s dominance of women’s intercollegiate athletics.
Title IX was passed in 1972, but the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) had been operating since the previous year. In the early days of women’s collegiate athletics, the NCAA had little influence. Most of the competitions and championships were organized under the AIAW.
But things were changing. According to the book “Untold, Untold, and Unbelievable Stories of IU Sports,” in 1979, the federal government’s Department of Health, Education, and Welfare discovered, by investigating a variety of complaints, that sports departments across the country were not providing enough resources for women’s sports. He published guidance calling for increased support and investment in areas ranging from equitable scholarships to coach salaries, travel costs and more.
That prompted the NCAA to begin exploring a larger role in women’s collegiate athletics, and by 1982, it was preparing to host its own championships.
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In Bloomington, Loring was building a power station. He was coming from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where, despite substantial success, his alma mater had decided to hand over the directorship to someone else. Loring moved to IU and began one of the greatest careers an Indiana coach has ever enjoyed, in any sport.
From 1978-79, his second season in charge, through 1984-85, his teams put together that Big Ten-dominating streak. Anchored by All-Americans including Conner, Tracy Hoffman, now Tracy Hirsberg, and Bev Ramser, now Bev Ellington, 1982 would prove to be the highest mark for a remarkable period.
One Loring players never stopped to consider.
“Honestly, those numbers and all that…I didn’t know about them at the time,” Conner said. “She was so focused. It was all tennis.”
There were still no NCAA-mandated limits on practice hours. Loring’s players would schedule their classes for the morning, leaving the afternoon open for training. They would work in team sessions, individual instruction with Loring, and in the weight room. When weather forced them indoors, they played on two courts built inside IU’s indoor arena at what is now Gladstein Fieldhouse.
Recruiting players from as close as Louisville and Evansville, and as far away as Memphis and Massachusetts, in just a few short years, Loring had built a team with the individual talent and collective drive to go further and higher than virtually anyone. another in the world. country.
“Some people have jobs at the university. This was our job in college,” Ellington said. “Everyone saw everyone else working hard and wanted to do the same. Competition is always good and healthy within a team too. Practicing just makes everyone better. I still think a lot of it was that we were a good team.”
Loring also had no qualms about pushing them.
None other than Conner, who initially hoped to go south for his college career so he could play outdoors all year. But Loring convinced her of IU, Bloomington and her burgeoning power. Working with him, Conner became one of the best players in the country.
“In Heather’s day, there was no 20-hour-a-week rule. She literally came in every day for an hour-long private lesson,” Loring said. “Years later, I joked with her that I did a lot more office work when she graduated.”
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She wasn’t shy about her talent back then, and remembers some tough talks with Loring when he said he wanted her to play No. 2 in singles her freshman year so she could feel less pressure.
“I said very firmly, ‘I won the No. 1 job and I have every right to play that position,’” Conner said. “I think she must have thought, ‘Well, she’s so adamant about this, she might be able to do this.'”
But he also recognized the value of such a dedicated coach, not only in training or individual instruction, but also in match preparation and scouting.
“Lin, he was just an exceptional strategist,” Conner said. “The college training thing is what I really missed in my professional years. I didn’t have a coach like him with me. We developed a strategy and he told me how we would win.”
Loring was also not shy about the competition. He scheduled a lot, even when it meant packing him, his team, his volunteer assistant and support staff for the trip in the team van and driving to tournament hours from Bloomington. That way, his players were put to the test against tougher competition.
“In those early years, the best hotel we stayed in was a Red Roof Inn, and all our travels were in a 15-passenger van,” Loring said with a laugh. “Those early teams, they were really road warriors.”
At the end of the season, that meant a trip to Iowa, where the AIAW was hosting its national tournament.
At this point, the NCAA was beginning to absorb AIAW competitions and take over women’s sports. But the AIAW postseason events carried even more weight in 1982, and Indiana headed to Iowa with some of the toughest competition in the country awaiting.
“I personally knew we were good,” Ellington said, “but I’m not really sure I knew we were as good as we were. As we go through the tournament, I think we’ve gained more and more confidence that, hey, we can really do this.”
The Hoosiers entered the tournament among the favorites and played as one, advancing to the finals, where they defeated second-seeded Cal-Berkeley. Conner followed up with a singles singles title, defeating Rollins College seed Vickie Nelson in straight sets, 7-5, 6-2, putting a final touch on one of the most remarkable seasons in IU Athletics history, in any sport.
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Eventually, the NCAA would take over administration of the women’s championships. It would take longer for IU to start releasing funds for her women’s teams to enjoy more comfortable travel accommodation, though Loring found the department growing enthusiastic about her show as time went on.
“I was treated very fairly in the athletic department, which was very masculine when I got here,” Loring said. “I think one of the reasons was because we won.”
That stretch turned out to be the first peak in a hugely successful career for Loring, who was twice named national coach of the year and retired in 2017 with 846 wins, the most in Division I women’s tennis history.
COVID disrupted the pattern of meetings the team used to host, and memories can fade after 40 years.
But four decades later, his players place the foundation of their success squarely on the coach who brought them together and built a dynasty in Bloomington.
“It was only his sophomore year when I got there,” Ellington said. “You could tell when we started practicing and playing together, we were just a cohesive group. He had those core players, and he kept building on that.”
Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.