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100 Years of Women's Basketball
By Mark Roy
Basketball had been around for 10 years before it came to the small campus of Connecticut Agricultural College in 1901.
"It is the opinion of the students that basket ball (sic) could be introduced into our college sports," wrote the editors of The Lookout in the December 1900 issue of the monthly student newspaper.
The student editors were optimistic about what basketball would do for the campus, if use of the college hall were approved.
"If the privilege of using this for such a purpose could be obtained, it is our opinion that with the able coaching of our physical director we could have a basket ball team that would be a close rival to our successful football team."
Two issues later, The Lookout reported that "It will interest many of our readers to know that a basket ball team has been organized at C.A.C. Basket-ball (sic) here is as yet largely experimental. It bids fair, under the able coaching of Mr. Knowles, to become a permanent athletic feature at our college."
That same January 1901 issue reported on the first men's game:
"It may be justly said that the first attempt at C.A.C. at basket-ball (sic) was a success.
"With fine sleighing on a fine night, Mr. Knowles took our team to Willimantic to play the team of the Willimantic High School, and to the honor of our team it may be said that the students, the young ladies especially, took enough interest in the boys in the blue and white jerseys to accompany them to Willimantic to cheer lustily during the entire game."
The score: C.A.C., 17; WHS, 12. The game began, and ended, the first season of play, and an undefeated season was recorded: 1-0. The experiment was deemed a success, and the team was formally organized in the 1901-1902 season.
The "young ladies" - there were 13 living in Grove Cottage in the spring of 1901 - thoroughly enjoyed the athletic contest. And, as Coach Knowles was their "physical culture" director as well, his influence and the thrill of the game must have led them to want a team of their own.
A year later, with the second season of men's basketball barely begun, The Lookout reported in its February 1902 issue that "there has appeared a new feature in our athletics, a basketball team, made up and well made up from the young ladies of Grove Cottage.
"Here we wish to congratulate the young women upon their success in interesting Mrs. Stimson in their work. A more ideally fit manager could not have been found. There is plenty of good material on the team. The college has followed this new series of games with interest."
Helen Stimson was the wife of C.A.C.'s president, Rufus Stimson.
The series comprised two games between the young ladies of Grove Cottage (the women's residence hall, built in 1895), and those of Willimantic High School.
The first game was held on a Saturday afternoon in February 1902 at home in the college hall of Old Main.
J.B. Twing, athletic notes editor for The Lookout, wrote "Saturday afternoon the College Girls' Basketball Team played and won their first game in the College Hall before the largest attendance of the season. The Willimantic High School girls boasted considerably and were greatly surprised to find such a lively aggregation of agile young ladies."
"The college girls," wrote Twing, "started in with a vigor amazing to behold, and Miss Koons soon made a pretty throw into the basket from the field." Grace Koons, daughter of C.A.C.'s president emeritus, Benjamin Koons, made the first score of the first women's game.
A student with another familiar name put in the second basket: Monteith. Marjorie, daughter of history professor Henry R. Monteith, would later become captain of the women's team.
Monteith, the team's center, made the first score of the second half, and when the game was over, the C.A.C. women had won 15 to 6. Their second game, a few weeks later, on March 13, was in Willimantic.
Marjorie Monteith again was top scorer for C.A.C., hitting six of the team's eight baskets. Grace Koons hit the other two and a foul shot. C.A.C. again beat Willimantic, with a score of 25 to 6 (field goals were worth three points each).
And 100 years later, UConn women's basketball has ended with another undefeated regular season.
A longer version of this story appeared in the Fall/Winter 2001 issue of UConn Traditions, the alumni magazine.