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DePaul Hall of Fame Class of 2013: 1978 DePaul Volleyball Team
The 1978 volleyball team was the first women's program at DePaul to fly out of state for a collegiate competion.

The 1978 volleyball team was the first women's program at DePaul to fly out of state for a collegiate competion.

Jan. 14, 2013

(Third in a series of feature stories portraying the Class of 2013 inductees into the DePaul Athletic Hall of Fame)

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The 1978 volleyball team was the first women's program at DePaul to fly in two different respects.

In an airplane, quite literally, the team flew out of state for competition and set an important university precedent during the infancy of Title IX legislation.

But it was on the volleyball court, too, where the Blue Demon program experienced a rapid liftoff. They did it with a rookie head coach and a collection of Chicagoland players, who came together quickly and turned in two of the most spectacular seasons in school history from 1977-79.

"We just blossomed within a three-year period into a major force at that time," said former head coach Ray Nakamura, a faculty member in the physical education department who took on the challenge of inheriting an 0-7 team in the middle of its 1976-77 season. "We were underdogs until people started to recognize, `hey, DePaul is pretty good.'"

"Prior to the 1977-78 season none of the other schools even had us on the radar as being a good team. Nobody gave us a second thought. They just thought they'd roll over DePaul and move on, but the girls were terrific and gelled into a really good team."

Over a two-year period, DePaul's success was staggering as the team ran up a 69-21-8 record under Nakamura, including a 37-10-2 mark in 1978-79. The Blue Demons also finished as high as second at the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (IAIAW) Tournament and reached the regional quarterfinals of the Midwest Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (MAIAW).

In 1978, the Blue Demons took the Midwest by storm, capturing tournament titles at the DePaul Invitational, Chicago Classic Tournament and Michigan State Invitational. At one point during the season, from September 29 until October 14, the Blue Demons strung together 16 wins in a row.

 

 

All six starters were homegrown - in fact, no player on the roster was from further away than Mt. Prospect, Ill. - and the lineup featured a pair of six-footers. Despite some height on the court, the Blue Demons were still frequently out-sized in their matchups and relied on athleticism and skill to take down many of their regional foes.

"Certainly height helped, but the smaller players we had were awfully good defensive players and good setters," said Nakamura. "Most of the team was solid in terms of athletic ability and each of the girls accepted the role they had to play and they were okay with that."

"Besides their athletic ability, they were just a really good group of girls that worked really, really hard and worked together. There were no petty jealousies. There weren't any hot dogs on the team."

Former starter Debbie Strus (formerly Brinkman) agrees, citing the team's camaraderie for much of its success.

"We all really loved to play volleyball," said Brinkman. "We loved to go to practice. A lot of us are still very close and keep in contact with each other. That was the benefit of going to a school where the recruiting was done locally at that time."

Many from the 1978 team stayed close in proximity and competed in recreation leagues together after graduation. And while Nakamura resigned after just over two years with the team to pursue a teaching position in California, there is no denying the important role in DePaul history he and the 1978 volleyball team hold - not only for those two superlative seasons, but also for their role in pioneering women's athletics success for years to come in Lincoln Park.

Next: Cheryl O'Dekirk, Softball

Full 1978 Volleyball roster: Debbie Brinkman, Kimary Brown, Sonya Fabiankovits, Sue Glab, Evelyn Johnson, Corrine Kordas, Vida Mark, Anna Moraitis, Sally Murphy, Sarah Seavers, Andrea Slowik, Donna Urbanski, head coach Ray Nakamura, student manager Paul Goodman, student trainer Allan Goodman

Statements from members of the 1978 volleyball team:

Donna Johnson (Urbanski)
"I came to DePaul in 1977 after my high school guidance counselor told me that DePaul was looking for volleyball players. I was fortunate enough to make the team and under the direction of Ray Nakamura I became a decent player. I played for all four years and graduated with a degree in psychology. I later went back to school and became a nurse. I am so grateful to DePaul for the education and experience, but I am most grateful for the friendships I still have with my teammates."

Sarah Seavers-Collins
"As a member the DePaul Volleyball Team I was honored and privileged to be part of a family within the DePaul community. Under the guidance of a man with integrity, unquestionable character and love, we grew from girls into women during our seasons together. Playing under "Nak" made me feel significant. Being on this team helped shape my character. What a gift!"

"I have been married to Elbert for 28 years and have been blessed with three remarkable children: Matt Quin and Tess. After coaching volleyball for 25 years - from first graders at the Boys and Girls Club, high schools, club teams and volunteering in the schools and cooking at the St. Vincent DePaul Soup Kitchen. I am now working full time as a Registered Nurse in Grass Pants, Oregon. Thank you "Nak" for having such a positive such on influence on my life."

Susan Formanski (Glab)
"I am married to Ed Formanski for 31 years. We dated through all my years at DePaul and he was a great supporter of the team. We have two children, Matthew and Jillian, who we have successfully helped through college. We are looking forward to enjoying the empty nest experience and hope to begin traveling more. I work for Hancock Fabrics as part of a management team in Schaumburg, IL. We currently live in Elmwood Park."

"One of the best memories I have of my volleyball experience at DePaul was when we came back from a 14-0 deficit to win a game. The other team only had to score one more point for a victory, but we fought back. My teammates reminded me that it was against Ball State although I only recall the relief of the last point scored and celebration that we had. I have retold that story many times when I coached teams at Fenwick High School. I always say that it's a fantastic feeling to come back from behind and I lived it!"

Vida Reid (Mark)
"Some of the most memorable highlights of that awesome 1978 year were the times we spent together off the court. We would go to fabulous restaurants to eat after every Saturday tournament. Often, we would take walks around the different campuses and enjoy shopping at the country stores."

"When I was a senior at Morton East H.S., I was told by my coach that DePaul was looking for volleyball players. I put together a scrapbook book of my high school volleyball newspaper articles and sent it in hoping someone would read it. A few days later, I received a call from "Nak" who said he would like me to come out for the team. The rest is history!"

"I am currently a Hospice Nurse for Little Company of Mary Hospital and have been in Cardiovascular Intenstive Care for 30 years. Married to Drake Reid and have a son, Michael, and granddaughter, Lila. We currently still play co-ed volleyball twice a week!"

Debbie Strus (Brinkman)
"I was recruited by Doug Bruno to play basketball and at the time I really wanted to play volleyball also and I was in luck because DePaul was looking to promote their volleyball team too. They worked it out so that I could play both volleyball and basketball for all four of my years, which was one of the best things for me at the time. At that time women were only receiving tuition scholarships. I was so grateful to have gotten that and to be able to play both volleyball and basketball."

"I am forever grateful to have gone to DePaul and have had the opportunity to have been coached by Ray Nakumura, even if it was only for two years. Going to DePaul was one of the favorite times of my life. I developed some long lasting friendships and made a lot of fun memories at DePaul."