Back Then

Among Richmond’s many anniversaries being celebrated this academic year — the Spider nickname (125 years), the WILL* program (40 years), the enrollment of the first African American residential student, and the transformative gift from E. Claiborne Robins, R’31 (both 50 years) — is 100 years of women’s basketball.

The above photo, circa 1924, features Fanny Crenshaw (top row, left), Westhampton College’s first director of physical education. Crenshaw was an athletics pioneer in general, particularly in field hockey — she’s a member of the sport’s hall of fame, and Crenshaw Field is named in her honor. She also practiced what she preached. At age 73, for example, she became the first person to complete the 50-mile swim challenge at Keller Hall’s Crenshaw Pool.

As the photo makes evident, uniforms were very different during Crenshaw’s tenure as the university’s women’s basketball coach, which lasted from 1919 to 1955. And while it’s unlikely she could have anticipated modern-day elements of the game that are now commonplace — everything from instant replay to women playing above the rim — there’s no question about her coaching prowess, which produced a gaudy 168–55 record.

I just really appreciate the women before us who put those blueprints down and kept paving the way.

The legacy Crenshaw started in women’s basketball at Richmond was demonstrated this season at a Feb. 24 home win over La Salle. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sport, former Spider women’s basketball players from across generations were honored.

“I really appreciate [the university] respecting women in the game,” said Lauren Tolson, ’16 and G’18. Tolson, who played for the Spiders between 2012 and 2017 (she redshirted for a season due to injury and played a fifth year as a graduate student while earning a master’s degree), now works for her alma mater as a user support specialist at Boatwright library.

“I’ve met alums who played in previous years, and their experiences are pretty cool to listen to compared to mine because it’s always evolving, always changing,” she said. “I just really appreciate the women before us who put those blueprints down and kept paving the way. I’m glad I was able to be a part of that as well.”

Aaron Roussell, hired as head women’s basketball coach in April, will look to build on the sport’s long tradition at Richmond. With facilities upgrades such as the Queally Athetics Center and the student-athlete development center at Millhiser Gymnasium in the works, the university’s commitment to women’s basketball is evident.

This magazine isn’t in the business of predicting sporting results, but given Roussell’s track record of success, odds are his teams will write a new chapter in the ongoing story of women’s basketball at Richmond.