At Cal Poly, women’s sports dominate the headlines with undefeated starts, national rankings, and no-hitters. Here’s what some of Cal Poly’s top athletes have to say about their female role models and how the NCAA treats women’s sports.
For Women’s Basketball sophomore point guard and Australian native Abbey Ellis, one of her most inspiring moments of women’s sports hits close to home.
“Cathy Freeman in the 2000 Olympics. One of the first Indigenous runners to even be in the Olympics, it’s one of the biggest moments in Aussie sports history,” Ellis said. “It was the biggest thing here. It’s what people talk about when they talk about women’s sports here. She has done so much for the Indigenous community, she’s amazing.”
Cathy Freeman was an Aboriginal Australian runner who, in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, won the gold in the 400-meter race. Freeman was the second ever Aboriginal gold medalist, winning in front of a roaring home crowd of Australians, and celebrated the momentous win with a victory lap in which she carried both the Australian and Aboriginal flags.
In terms of female role models, volleyball player Maia Dvoracek said “it’s absolutely Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor.”
“They are the epitome of awesome female role models, especially for volleyball players,” Dvoracek said.
Volleyball captain and middle blocker Meredith Phillips had a childhood coach who was an inspiration for her athletic performance, describing her coach from her 16-year-old club team as the perfect role model for a volleyball player due to her impressive resume. That coach was Tara Cross-Battle, a four-time Olympian, bronze-medalist, and former national champion at Long Beach State.
Closer to San Luis Obispo, Mustang athletes named plenty of women at Cal Poly who inspire their success on and off the court. Dvoracek specifically mentioned Volleyball Head Coach Caroline Walters as a role model for her.
“Her history, doing what she did at Santa Clara and making a Final Four made her such a model player, and now as our coach, she’s just an amazing person overall is someone we really love,” Dvoracek said.
When it comes to playing for a university like Cal Poly, all of the athletes agreed that the community of support from fellow athletes is huge, but support from the community is different.
“Everyone knows about ‘Mott Magic.’ Mott gets packed with students, the band, parents, community members and they are screaming our names,” Phillips said. “They make it so awesome here. I still remember the crowd against Hawai’i in 2019.”
On the other hand, Ellis said she feels like the school could have done a better job promoting more of its women’s sports, especially when teams like Women’s Basketball had one of their best seasons in years with very little promotion from the university.
“Those close to the team are great, but we play a lot, we win a lot, we’re playing good and I feel like we should get more recognition and a bit more of a spotlight than we have to get, but we still feel loved by this school,” Ellis said.
Dvoracek agreed that the university isn’t doing enough, but believes it’s a much larger issue.
“I don’t think it’s a men or women issue at [Cal] Poly. It’s a Cal Poly issue. Cal Poly needs to do better on promoting all of its sports in general,” Dvoracek said.
On a larger scale, the athletes spoke about their reactions to the NCAA weight room scandal in San Antonio. The NCAA provided a “weight room” that consisted of yoga mats and dumbbells for the Women’s Basketball tournament while a larger, state-of-the-art weight room was provided for the Men’s Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis.
The disparity in the two weight rooms sparked outrage from both male and female athletes and has prompted conversations on if the NCAA is treating their athletes fairly and equally, as well as in accordance with legislation like Title IX.
“It just didn’t make any sense to me. The NCAA is supposed to be a non-profit organization. It shouldn’t matter how much each tournament is making,” Dvoracek said.
Both Ellis and Phillips said they thought the images they saw on the news were a joke at first, but neither were laughing.
“At first I assumed it had to be a joke,” Phillips said. “The pictures were blurry, but it then just became frustrating. These women work just as hard, they need that equipment. It made my jaw drop.”
“I first saw it on social media, and I thought it was a joke. It had to be a joke,” Ellis said.“I feel like I’m not surprised though, and that’s the worst part about it. How can the NCAA be comfortable with this?”
The athletes agreed that with the popularity of women’s sports on the rise, the NCAA needs to be doing more, not less, to support their female athletes.
Dvoracek and Phillips described how the NCAA Women’s Volleyball playoffs have cut the number of teams in the bracket this season from 64 to 48 despite the fact that only two conferences have canceled Spring Volleyball, the Ivy League and the Big West, which Cal Poly participates in.
“It would make sense if there was a much smaller pool of teams to pick from, but the only teams that aren’t playing right now are the Big West and the Ivies, so take away two tournament spots from them,” Dvoracek said. “But now 14 fewer schools get to make the tournament just because two teams might not be there. It’s just really disappointing in that if it was Men’s Basketball they would not cut the tournament down, and they didn’t.”
Looking to the future, all three athletes said they believe the world of women’s sports will get better, albeit at a slower-than-desired pace.
“Those leaders in women’s sports, those who’ve made a name for themselves, are doing the most they can right now for women’s sports. Once we have generational leadership in women’s sports, we have the community to support one another, it would be nothing but up from there,” Ellis said.
Phillips said she is not going to believe change is possible until she sees it happen.
“I hope public outbursts saying that ‘this stuff is not okay’ are going to make people start treating women’s sports right in the first place and show that they actually care about making change,” Phillips said.
All three agreed on what it takes for them to be role models for the next generation of athletes: hard work and attitude.
“I want to be someone that they see off the court as always having fun and how important it is to be a part of a team,” Ellis said. “I want little girls to be able to look up to me and see the value in being nice and being a good teammate.”
“I want to be known as hardworking and approachable. I want to be that before anything else. I want to be a good person and I want kids to realize how valuable that is,” Dvoracek said.
“I want to make an impact on girls’ lives. I want them to look at me and realize what you can accomplish through sports,” Phillips said. “I want to be a positive example that makes a kid say, ‘I want to be like her when I’m older.’”