BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Patriot League, in conjunction with its ten full-member institutions, has announced its Trailblazers of Distinction to recognize the accomplishments of some of their most impactful women leaders during the Title IX era.
The League worked closely with staff from each institution to identify and honor individual women and memorable teams for contributions to their respective athletics departments, campuses, and society at large. The Trailblazers of Distinction were selected in concurrence with the Patriot League’s yearlong celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Title IX.
Each Trailblazer of Distinction represents the Patriot League’s vision for achieving athletic potential and values of integrity, character, and personal development. Collectively, the women and teams recognized have served as shining examples of the importance of the journey toward inclusion and gender equity.
When the Patriot League became an all-sport conference during the 1990-91 academic year, it initially offered 22 sports; 11 men’s and 11 women’s. The ability to offer an equal complement of sports was in part due to the contributions made by some of the Trailblazers of Distinction. Their collegiate athletics careers concluded before the formation of the League. The paths they paved afforded future generations more opportunities to compete is why it is important to recognize their accomplishments alongside those that directly impacted the Patriot League.
Nicole Aunapu Mann – Women’s Soccer ’99
Mann, an American test pilot and NASA astronaut has been awarded two Air Medals, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, and two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals. The two-time Patriot League Women’s Soccer Defensive Player of the Year (1997-98) earned her Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy and a Master of Science in mechanical engineering from Stanford. She is set to become the first Native American woman in space, serving as the commander of the SpaceX Crew-5 mission when it launches this fall.
Kayla Barron – Cross Country / Track and Field ’10
After graduating from the Naval Academy with a degree in systems engineering, the two-time All-Patriot League performer earned her master’s in nuclear engineering at the University of Cambridge. Lieutenant commander Barron is currently a NASA astronaut after serving as an American submarine warfare officer.
Becky Dowling Calder – Women’s Basketball ’94
Calder broke barriers in the military as one of the first female pilots to graduate from the U.S. Navy’s Fighter Weapons School, known as Top Gun. Since Commander Calder graduated from Top Gun, 21 more women have graduated from the fighter weapons school. In 2014, the three-time All-Patriot League selection was the first woman to have her varsity number (32) retired at Navy.
Carin Gabarra – Head Women’s Soccer Coach (1993-present)
Gabarra, a five-time Patriot League Women’s Soccer Coach of the Year, has served as the only head coach in Navy women’s soccer history. Before her coaching career, she received the 1991 World Cup Golden Ball after scoring six goals while leading the U.S. to their first-ever Women’s World Cup Championship. Gabarra is also an Olympic Gold Medalist at the 1996 Summer Olympics, the first time that a women’s tournament was conducted. The 1987 UC-Santa Barbara graduate stood out for the Gauchos, earning induction into the UC-Santa Barbara Athletic Hall of Fame in October 1991.
The 2017 Navy Women’s Lacrosse team is the first Patriot League women’s team or Service Academy team to make an NCAA Final Four in any sport. The 2017 Mids were coached by Cindy Timchal, an eight-time National Champion and the winningest head coach in NCAA DI women’s lacrosse history. They became the Navy’s first women’s lacrosse coach in 2006.
Athena Argyropoulos – ’78, Senior Associate AD/SWA
Argyropoulos graduated from American as a two-sport letter winner in field hockey and basketball. She continued her work at AU as an academic counselor, serving as Senior Associate Athletics Director (AD) and Senior Woman Administrator (SWA). In addition to her work on campus, she was an NCAA Division I women’s basketball official for 18 years, worked at NCAA Tournament games, and officiated the 1996 Olympic Games women’s basketball opener.
Keira D’Amato – Women’s Track and Field and Cross Country ’06
D’Amato is the most decorated runner in American University history, earning All-America status four times and compiling 11 Patriot League championship wins. She earned CoSIDA Academic All-America honors in 2005 and six separate Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year distinctions. She currently holds the United States record in the marathon after having run 2:19:12 at the Houston Marathon and the United States Record in the 10-mile run, running 51:23 at the Up Dawg Ten Miler in Washington D.C.
Ohemaa Nyanin – Women’s Basketball ‘09
After graduating from American University, Nyanin served as the women’s basketball director of operations from 2010 to 2011. From there, she was the assistant director for USA women’s national basketball team for several years. She currently serves as the assistant general manager for the New York Liberty.
Barbara Reimann – Assistant AD, Field Hockey Coach
Reimann was the head field hockey coach from 1967 to 1987, accruing 111 wins during her 20 seasons. After coaching, she became an assistant AD and was later promoted to senior associate AD and SWA at American. During her tenure, she was also an associate professor of health and fitness from 1967 to 1997.
Christina (Wright) Mehlon – Women’s Track and Field ‘07
Mehlon graduated from American University in 2007, making the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll for indoor and outdoor track and field in 2004 and 2006, and continues to hold indoor and outdoor shot-put school records. After completing graduate school at Ohio University, Mehlon served as the Assistant Director of Diversity and Inclusion at the NCAA and is currently the assistant director of Industry and Alumni Engagement in the AECOM Center for Sports Administration at Ohio University
Army West Point
Cindy Jebb – Women’s Volleyball ‘82
At West Point, Jebb was a four-year letter-winner in volleyball and a team captain as a senior, while also lettering in softball during her plebe year. She received her master’s degree and Ph.D. in political science from Duke before a distinguished military career. Jebb retired as a Brigadier General after a nearly five-year term as the first woman to serve as the Dean of the Academic Board of the U.S. Military Academy. She is currently the President of Ramapo College in New Jersey.
Alma Kovaci Lee – Women’s Volleyball Head Coach 2007-present
Kovaci Lee, a two-time Patriot League Coach of the Year and League champion, has guided the Black Knights to their only two NCAA Tournament appearances during her 15-year tenure at the program’s helm. The Tirana, Albania native entered the 2022 season second in program history in wins (283) and winning percentage (.661)
Kelsey Minato – Women’s Basketball ‘16
Minato, a three-time Patriot League Women’s Basketball Player of the Year, graduated from Army West Point in 2016 as the League’s all-time leading scorer (2,556). The 2016 espnW Mid-Major Player of the Year earned an invitation to training camp with the WNBA’s San Antonio Stars before serving five years in the United States Army.
Pam Pearson – Women’s Basketball, Women’s Track and Field ‘86
Pearson is the only two-sport All-America honoree in Army West Point history, garnering basketball and track and field recognition. In 1984, she led Army women’s basketball to 25 victories and the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance. Pearson received All-America accolades in track and field in the long jump and the triple jump during her senior season.
Diana Wills – Women’s Track and Field ‘90
Wills is one of the most decorated student-athletes in Army West Point history and one of the premier triple jumpers in NCAA history. The 12-time All-American earned certificates in the long jump and triple jump in the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships. She graduated as the NCAA DII record-holder in the triple jump (indoor and outdoor), and captured four NCAA triple jump titles. She later represented the U.S at the 1995 World Championships and 1996 Olympic Games.
Nancy Feldman – Women’s Soccer Head Coach ’95- ’22
Feldman served as Boston University women’s soccer head coach since the team earned varsity status in 1995 until she retired earlier this year. She is one of the NCAA’s most decorated women’s soccer coaches, finishing her career 22nd in all-time wins (418 wins).
Debbie Miller-Palmore – Women’s Basketball ’81
Miller-Palmore is one of the most decorated Boston University basketball players in program history. She was the championship MVP all four years at BU, finishing top-five in the country in rebounding for multiple seasons (1,198 career rebounds). Miller-Palmore was named to the 1980 United States Olympic Team.
Lesley Sheehan – Tennis ’84, Women’s Tennis Head Coach
Coach Sheehan is entering her 38th season as the head coach of Boston University women’s tennis after four years as a student-athlete at BU. She is a five-time Patriot League Coach of the Year, 2002 USA Tennis’ New England Coach of the Year, 2009 and 2015 USPTA New England Coach of the Year, and was inducted into the USTA New England Hall of Fame in 2019.
Sally Starr – Field Hockey Coach
Coach Starr has led the Terriers’ field hockey team for more than 40 seasons, posting winning records in 30 of the past 36 seasons. She has led one of the top-ranked programs in the country since the mid-1980s, ranking 11th among collegiate field hockey coaches in career wins (492); fifth among Division I head coaches. Starr also guided the Bucknell field hockey program for two seasons before her run at BU, posting winning seasons in 1979 and 1980.
1973-74 Women’s Rowing Team
The 1973-74 BU women’s rowing team were pioneers in women’s sports, being one of the first NCAA Division I women’s teams established after the passing of Title IX. The team won two gold medals at the National Women’s Rowing Association National Championships.
Dawn Becker – Softball ’85
Becker graduated from Bucknell in 1985 and was inducted into their Athletics Hall of Fame in 1997 after one of the most decorated pitching careers in program history. The right-handed pitcher set numerous records during her career and was a two-time East Coast Conference (ECC) Scholar-Athlete Award winner and Academic All-America honoree. She is the current Executive Vice President of Federal Realty and serves on the Board of Trustees and real estate advisory board for Bucknell University.
Margaret (Peg) Bryan – Director of Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics ’45 – ’81
Bryan was a leading force in establishing the women’s varsity program at the University, serving as the first director of women’s intercollegiate athletics. Bryan ran the women’s physical education and recreation program and constructed successful competitive athletics for women before the program received formal varsity recognition.
Bobbi Castens-Seidell – Basketball, Field Hockey, Lacrosse ’79
Castens-Seidell was one of the first two women elected to the school’s Hall of Fame after serving as a co-captain on the basketball and field hockey teams and was an integral member of the women’s lacrosse team. After her Bucknell competition, she was drafted by the Houston Angles of the Women’s Professional Basketball League and was selected to the Susquehanna Association First Team for four straight years as a goalie in field hockey.
Molly Creamer – Basketball ’03
Creamer held 22 Bucknell and 13 Patriot League records during her basketball career, scoring 2,462 points, the second-most in League history. The three-time League player of the year earned NCAA Division I Kodak, WBCA, and AP All-America honors during her career before being selected 10th overall in the 2003 WNBA Draft by the New York Liberty, the first WNBA draft selection in League history.
Karin Wegener Knisely – Basketball, Field Hockey, Lacrosse ’79
Wegener Knisely was among the first two women elected to the Bucknell Hall of Fame and the first three-sport captain in field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse. She held Bucknell scoring records in field hockey and lacrosse and was selected to the Mid-East Team for the National Field Hockey tournament for four straight years. She earned a Fulbright Scholarship for research in freshwater biology at the University of Konstanz in Germany. She currently serves as a faculty member in the Department of Biology at Bucknell.
Vicky Chun – Women’s Volleyball ’91, Volleyball Head Coach 1994-96, Athletics Director 2012-18
Chun excelled as a student-athlete, coach, and administrator at Colgate before becoming the first woman and first Asian American to serve as Director of Athletics at Yale when she accepted the post in 2018. At Colgate, Chun was selected as the Patriot League Volleyball Player of the Year in 1991 and Coach of the Year in 1996. She was selected as the NACWAA National Administrator of the Year (FCS Division) in 2010.
Dorothy Donaldson – Softball ’05
Donaldson was inducted into Colgate’s Hall of Honor in 2017 after being a commanding force in Patriot League softball during her four years as a Raider. She remains the leader in career home runs with 39 and ranks in the top five of all other offensive categories. She was awarded the title of Patriot League Player of the Year in 2004 and earned All-Patriot League First Team honors four times.
Thayer Lavielle – Ice Hockey ’93
Lavielle was a women’s club ice hockey student-athlete who worked with fellow students to transform women’s ice hockey into a varsity sport at Colgate. She currently serves as the Executive Vice President at global sports and entertainment agency Wasserman, working to achieve its goal of raising the visibility and inclusion of women in sports and music. Through The Collective, Lavielle also spearheaded the formation of The Collective Marketplace in 2021 and The Collective Think Tank, a global consortium of academic institutions and industry-creating research around women in sport.
Autumn McKenzie – Volleyball ’97
McKenzie won Patriot League Rookie of the Year in 1993 and was a First Team All-Patriot League selection her final three seasons with the Raiders. She was also a First-Team AVCA Division I District 1 honoree and received Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year and Tournament MVP as a senior. She is currently a public speaker, writer, and blogger.
Dr. Merrill Miller – Sports Medicine
Miller has been a staple of the athletic training department at Colgate for more than 30 years. She was the first and only female head physician for several years on the NCAA Division I level and continues to serve as the Director of Health Services for Colgate. Dr. Miller has been given the John LeFevre Athletic Appreciation Award, Maroon Council Award, Senior Class Award, and Maroon Citation during her tenure in Hamilton, N.Y.
Egetta Alfonso – Women’s Track and Field ’92, Director of Cross Country and Track and Field
Alfonso competed at Holy Cross on the women’s track and field team for four years, serving as the team’s co-captain during the 1991-92 season. She later served as head coach of the women’s track and field team for 23 years and was recently promoted to Richard L Ahern ’51 Director of Cross Country and Track and Field. Under her leadership, Holy Cross has won more than three dozen individual and relay Patriot League Championships.
Sherry Levin – Women’s Basketball ‘84
Levin was one of the top student-athletes to compete on a women’s basketball team in Holy Cross history. She still holds records in points (2,253), scoring average (21.8 PPG), field goals made (842), and free throws made (569). Since graduating from Holy Cross, Levin has coached at Beaver Country Day School, the Maccabi USA Open Women’s Basketball Team, and now at Worcester Academy.
Lauren Manis – Women’s Basketball ‘20
Manis was the first player in Holy Cross history on either the men’s or women’s side, with 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds. During her senior season, she was ranked fourth in Division I in double-doubles (20) and fifth in rebounds (344). She was drafted by the Las Vegas Aces in the third round (33rd overall) of the 2020 WNBA Draft.
Mary Fitzgerald Riley – Field Hockey, Basketball, Softball ‘83
Fitzgerald Riley earned a school-record 12 letters as a student-athlete. She was one of the basketball team’s leading scorers during her junior and senior seasons and one of the softball squad’s best hitters. She served as a team captain in all three sports during her senior year and received the 1983 John A. Meegan Athletic Achievement Award.
Patricia Sutton Thompson – Lacrosse ‘07
Sutton Thompson held the women’s lacrosse program records for single-season points (75) for 15 years and is still the all-time leader in career goals (215). After graduating from Holy Cross, Sutton Thompson served as an assistant coach at the University at Albany for two years before returning to her alma mater for three seasons as an assistant coach.
Heidi Caruso Commins – Basketball, Women’s Soccer ‘94
Commins, a two-sport alumna at Lafayette, is a Maroon Club Hall of Fame selection. As a point guard, she held NCAA records for steals in a game (14), career (532), and season (168) and owned the record for the highest steals per game average in a season (6.0). In a 69-game soccer career, she recorded 63 goals and 17 assists. Commins is currently an emergency physician at the Abington-Lansdale Hospital and a flight doctor in the Air National Guard.
The 2022 P.A.R.D.S. Award recipient, Ganpo graduated in 2022 with a bachelor’s in biology. She was also a 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year nominee from Lafayette. Ganpo founded Cocoa Talks, a support group for Black women and queer people in STEM fields at Lafayette.
Ashley Harbin – Track and Field ’08
A 2021 Maroon Club Hall of Fame Inductee, Harbin was a three-time NCAA championship qualifier in the hammer throw. She was the first Lafayette female to qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships in the 20-pound weight throw. She still holds Lafayette school records in the hammer (209′), and 20-pound weight (66′ 2.25″) throws.
Janet Murray – Basketball, Field Hockey, Softball ’08
Murray served as captain for three teams (basketball, field hockey, and softball) during her senior year while earning 11 varsity letters at Lafayette. She graduated in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and was the first woman inductee into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.
Jennifer Stone – Field Hockey, Lacrosse ’04, Head Field Hockey Coach 2013-present
Stone was a two-sport star in field hockey and lacrosse during her athletics career at Lafayette, earning Patriot League Field Hockey Offensive Player of the Year in 2004. After graduating from Lafayette and earning her master’s degree from Temple, she returned to College Hill as the head field hockey coach, where she is in her 10th season. Stone was named the 2019 Patriot League Field Hockey Coach of the Year, guiding her squad to the League title game.
Karen Adams – Coach and Administrator
Adams was head volleyball coach (1980-84, 2006) and head women’s tennis coach (1980-1998), in addition to serving as an administrator at Lehigh (1985-2016). The University named its Graduating Female Athlete Award, established in 1980, in honor of Adams in 2016 following her retirement. The award recognizes a female student-athlete that compiled the most distinctive athletic record during her time at Lehigh.
Cathy Engelbert – Women’s Basketball, Women’s Lacrosse ’86
In 2019, Engelbert was named the first Commissioner of the WNBA, following four years as CEO at Deloitte, where she had become the first female U.S. CEO of a Big Four firm. At Lehigh, the Collingswood, N.J. native went from walk-on to team captain on both the women’s basketball and women’s lacrosse teams.
Gina Lewandowski – Women’s Soccer ’07
Lewandowski’s professional soccer career allowed her to play internationally and domestically for more than 15 seasons, concluding in 2022 after a three-year stint with the NWSL’s NJ/NY Gotham FC. The two-time Patriot League Women’s Soccer Offensive Player of the Year received a call-up and earned one cap with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team in 2012.
Bridget O’Connell – Cross Country, Track and Field ’95
O’Connell graduated from Lehigh with a bachelor’s degree in English and anthropology in 1995, then obtained her master’s degree in educational leadership in 1997. She then earned her Ph.D. in educational leadership in 2007. O’Connell, the 2022 Pennsylvania Superintendent of the Year, is currently the Superintendent of Palisades School District in Upper Bucks County in Pennsylvania.
Lisa (Sweeney) Van Ackeren – Softball ’09
Van Ackeren, the only four-time Patriot League Softball Pitcher of the Year, is in her 11th year as Princeton’s head softball coach. The 2008 academic all-America was named Patriot League Tournament MVP three times and owns most Patriot League pitching records, including wins (104), shutouts (31), strikeouts (928), and no-hitters (4). In her first season at the helm for Princeton, the three-time Ivy League Coach of the Year became the winningest first-year coach in the program’s history with a 27-19 record.
Jen Adams – Women’s Lacrosse Head Coach ‘09-present
Adams cemented her status as one of the most accomplished women’s lacrosse players of all time, leading Maryland to four national titles and winning the Tewaaraton Trophy. Since moving to the sideline, Adams has guided the Greyhounds to 10 NCAA Championships and led her team to an NCAA-record winning streak of 66 consecutive conference games.
Anne McCloskey – Coach and Administrator
As a pioneer of Loyola women’s athletics, McCloskey wore many hats at the university – including head women’s lacrosse coach (1977-86), head women’s basketball coach (1976-81), head field hockey coach (1976-78), and assistant athletic director and director of intramural programs and recreational sports (1986-94). A former Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches’ Association President, McCloskey was inducted into the Loyola Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995.
Senna Ohlsson – Track and Field ‘21
Ohlsson holds four Patriot League titles and was the first Loyola female student-athlete to win an individual title after the Greyhounds joined the conference in 2013-14. She won the 800 meters (two indoors, two outdoors) during her time at Loyola and graduated in 2021 Bachelor of Science in biology and English. She is now a teaching fellow pursuing a graduate degree at Yale University.
Patty Stoffey – Women’s Basketball ’95
Stoffey, a 1995 graduate from Loyola, led the women’s basketball team to its only two NCAA Tournament appearances in 1994 and 1995. She was a two-time All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year and was named the MAAC player of the Year in 1994-95. She graduated from Loyola as the all-time leading scorer in State of Maryland basketball history for female or male players.
1997 Women’s Lacrosse Team and Head Coach Diane Geppi-Aikens
The 1997 Loyola Maryland Women’s Lacrosse Team is the first and only Loyola women’s team to reach an NCAA Championship Game. The team, ranked No. 2 in the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) Poll, was coached by National Lacrosse Hall of Famer Diane Geppi-Aikens. Geppi-Aikens won over 70 percent of the women’s lacrosse games she coached at Loyola, compiling a 197-71 record on the sidelines. She led the Greyhounds to 10 NCAA Tournament appearances and was a three-time national coach of the year.
Jennifer Heppel – Commissioner 2015-present
Heppel was selected as the Patriot League’s fifth commissioner in 2015 and has worked to advance the League’s visibility while prioritizing the student-athlete experience through engagement and student-athlete health and welfare initiatives. She led the League’s digital rights transition to ESPN+ while also working with League coaches, student-athletes, and administrators to form the Patriot League Anti-Racism Commission.
Deborah Herman – Executive Assistant/Business Manager 1989-2005, 2011-2020
Herman was one of the Patriot League’s original employees, joining in 1989 before the League’s inception as an all-sport conference. She holds the distinction of working with all four full-time Executive Directors and Commissioners in League history. Herman was a constant through the Patriot League’s evolution into becoming one of NCAA DI’s elite academic conferences.
Connie Hurlbut – Patriot League Executive Director 1993-1999
Hurlbut was named the Executive Director of the Patriot League in 1993, becoming the first woman and youngest person to be selected as the leader of an NCAA Division I conference. Following her time at the League, Hurlbut served as the Senior Director of Basketball Operations at the WNBA and is currently the Senior Associate Commissioner of the West Coast Conference.
Carolyn Schlie Femovich – Patriot League Executive Director 1999-2015
Femovich was one of two women to lead an NCAA DI conference office when she took over the post in 1999. She went on to become the longest-serving Executive Director of the Patriot League, leading the way in the development of a comprehensive multimedia package, expansion of League membership and an improvement of League competitiveness.