Nighttime practices and carpool adventures-the birth of UCSC women's basketball


In 1972-73, Cindy Duncan was back at at UCSC. Laurie Bennett and Ann McCampbell had competed in coed softball and ping-pong at the Santa Barbara All-Cal sports festival, a gathering among the University of California campuses allowing each school's intramural athletes to compete against other schools. McCampbell won the women's ping-pong singles before she and Bennett went on to graduate from UCSC in 1972 right before the passage of Title IX that summer.

After Title IX passed, plans were underway for a first-ever separate women's basketball All-Cal event at UC Riverside to be held the following February in 1973. So in 1972-73, the same year the UCSC men's basketball team started, the first women's team was organized.

Gail Katz came to UCSC from Los Angeles in 1971. On her first day on campus, she went to the gym for a pickup game and hit it off with another freshman named Sarajo Frieden. Afterwards, when they went back to the College 5 (now Porter) dorm, they discovered they were roommates. "Given it was such a counterculture place, it was great to find other women that were also jocks," said Katz, now a movie producer and cinema professor in Los Angeles. "We loved the game. If you wanted to do something you had to go out and do it."
The first female student-athletes on campus were playing a variety of sports around town to satisfy their love of competing before the school organized team sports. Katz was on the same City League softball team as Duncan and Polly Gose (Pizza Hut aka The Mozzarella Mommas). Dian Smith was recruited from softball as well, as were Carolyn Fank and Lynn Eber. Mary Bolesta and Janette Tom played tennis with Duncan. Slowly, UCSC's first team coalesced from the recreational leagues and campus pickup games, debuting winter quarter 1973. "I didn't realize we were the first women's basketball team at UCSC," said Katz. "There were not many of us, as far as women basketball players. We were looked at as anomalies, but I do remember that Title IX was having a ripple effect throughout women's sports at the time. Rules were changing, and hopefully attitudes as a result."  

To add some historical perspective, McCampbell mentions the fact that the women came from an era where girls' high school basketball was six-on-six and some players couldn't cross half court. "I have been amazed at the progression of women's sports, basketball especially, over the years," said McCampbell. "I remember playing in high school where girls could only have three dribbles and you could never touch another player. Later in high school, it went to unlimited dribble ... which was a big deal ... but still there were six players on a team; two stayed at one end of the court, two stayed at the other, and two 'rovers' were allowed to run the whole length of the court."

"Everyone played well together," said Bolesta, who was also in the sailing club. "I had played basketball in high school and loved the game. Being almost 5-foot-10 with a good shot made me a pretty good center," she recalled.

Duncan remembers Bolesta being the glue of the 1973 team because she was tall and athletic.
"Gail and I were really excellent outside shooters," recalled Duncan. "Gail was shooting what were essentially three-pointers from all over the court. I was a pretty good ball handler and could rebound well for a 5'5" person. Mary Bolesta was tall, athletic and could pass from the post. Polly was a good rebounder, very quick and athletic. Sarajo was a phenomenal rebounder, all-around athlete and presented a tremendous inside presence at forward. Lynn was athletic and tough at the forward position. Carolyn Fank played tenacious defense on the perimeter."

As the men had encountered, the team had to work around intramurals and other events to get time on the court.

Frieden said "there was only the one gym at the time. I recall having to wait until late at night in order to secure time to practice." Duncan recalls it was at least 10 at night. "The sun had definitely set whenever we got a chance to practice!"
"I remember our team as a tight group," continued Frieden. "It was one of the things I had loved about my high school team--the group spirit and sense of camaraderie; it was definitely part of the experience of playing on the UCSC team."

The team played junior colleges as well as the NPS in Monterey before the All-Cals. A head coach named Frank was hired, mainly to drive the team to games.
"He was a nice enough guy but knew little about basketball," said Duncan. According to Freiden, "I think Frank was a Vietnam War vet, drove a Toyota jeep,and had his dog with him driving to games or tournaments. I remember we were driving on the highway and a car (not sure if it was his or someone else) backfired. Frank was driving and when he heard the backfire, he ducked--and kept driving! Something about that incident and his being a Vietnam War vet are linked--like it was PTSD, a word we didn't really use then."

Duncan recalls however the organization before the All-Cals wasn't optimal. The team didn't even get a van to go together, instead driving down themselves and meeting at the gym. They stayed with relatives who lived in Southern California. "For some reason, Janette and Dian were not allowed by the school to travel to UC Riverside because we could only take 7 or 8 members. But they were integral members of the team and the rest of us did not think it was fair," emphasized Duncan.

"The other schools were legit," recalled Katz. "My friend from high school was playing at UCLA and they had uniforms. We had t-shirts." Santa Cruz (not yet the Slugs) debuted with losses in fairly close games against UC San Diego and Santa Barbara to exit the tourney.

"After Riverside, Frank was let go or decided to move on. There were no hard feelings," said Duncan. Rich Kitchens, co-founder/coach of the men's team and friend to a lot of the women, was recruited to be women's coach the next year. Duncan was so proficient that Kitchens had brought her in once to show the men how to shoot free throws. "I think I made 29 in a row before the guys got tired of the 'lesson'. I also am not sure Rich actually got paid extra to coach the women," she said.

"Had he coached our debut 1973 team, we might have won the All-Cals. Seriously. It was that good of a team."

Epilogue- Later in spring quarter 1973, most of the team (Tom, Duncan, Katz, Gose, Fank and Eber) all played women's softball at the spring intramural All Cal festival held again in Santa Barbara. Fank also competed in badminton. Bolesta and Duncan also competed in tennis. The following Spring 1974, UCSC hosted the All Cal intramural festival for the first time.

NEXT- 1974 and hoops battles with Berkeley.