Celebrating a Century of Principia Women in Sports
STORY BY ALLEX (SAMMULI) JESPER (US’12, C’16)
Principia boasts a rich history of accomplishments in women’s athletics with one of the longest traditions of girls’ and women’s sports in the nation. From humble beginnings, an athletics program for girls was created at the School just over one hundred years ago, providing opportunities for girls to play a variety of sports and for women to coach and hold athletic leadership positions. By the time Principia College relocated to Elsah in 1935, women’s athletics was already well established on the St. Louis campus and ready to take flight at the collegiate level.
Honoring a Legacy of Excellence
From Olympians and All-Americans to national and Ivy League champions, both the School and College have fostered athletes from all over the world who have inspiring stories and experiences to share. Many are famed, revered, and respected by the Principia community—even years after they left their marks on the Principia athletic arena. Some are continuing their passion for athletics— whether through coaching, playing, or using sports to make a notable impact on their current communities.
Looking to the Future
The future is bright for women’s athletics at Principia. Most recently, tennis players at the College were presented with the top two awards at the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC)—and track and field athletes placed first in the pole vault, making the podium in the steeplechase at SLIAC. At the School, the upcoming opening of the new Bill Simon Field House offers exceptional athletic opportunities for all athletes. The best-in-class fitness facilities and performance courts will open this fall—complete with classrooms and meeting rooms that honor Principia School’s female athletes and coaches who propelled the program forward. Simon offers both boys and girls an unmatched space to compete at the highest levels on an even playing field.
While there are countless wins to note from Principia’s vast history of athletic accomplishments, marking the first century of women’s athletics has allowed Principia to take stock of the young women and coaches who have been trailblazers, record breakers, trendsetters, and heavy hitters. These girls and women have helped define the history of women’s athletics at Principia and set a precedent for continued excellence in the future.
KATHERINE (WHITNEY) CURTIS
PRINCIPIA SCHOOL’S FIRST ATHLETIC DIRECTOR FOR GIRLS
As Principia’s first woman to direct girls’ sports at the School, Whitney (pictured above, center) was instrumental in laying the foundation for a robust athletics program for girls. With an eager female student body ready to play and compete, Whitney assumed her position as the girls’ athletic director in 1919. She was fierce and confident on the field and on the court. She boldly took the reins as a coach for Principia’s first girls’ basketball team, led the girls’ field hockey team, and taught physical education. Whitney was an outstanding athlete during her own high school years, having swum across Lake Mendota, Wisconsin,—a distance of three and a half miles—in three hours and forty minutes. Whitney took her love for swimming and sports out into the world after her time at Principia. She is widely credited as the originator of synchronized swimming—it was her creative idea to combine water acrobatics with music—which later became an Olympic sport in 1984. She introduced synchronized swimming to the world in 1934 at the Chicago World’s Fair.
JANE (HERRMANN) HARRISON
BASKETBALL, FIELD HOCKEY
Lifelong Principian Jane Harrison (#21, center) grew up playing just about every sport— and she excelled at them all. In her 40-year career at Principia, Harrison has devoted herself to School athletics, coaching four varsity high school sports, as well as teams at the lower levels, serving as assistant athletic director, and mentoring other coaches at Principia. When asked about her proudest athletic moments, Harrison thinks back to her time spent playing college field hockey and making it to the regional finals with women who became lifelong friends. Yet, it’s clear her passion for mentoring young athletes and helping them realize their potential marks a true “win” in her book.
“Coaching is . . . helping athletes learn what it takes to be successful in an arena that requires one to use one’s physical, mental, and spiritual capacities. It’s assisting them in learning how to lead themselves, face adversity, commit to hard work, and put others first—so many things that are essential to survive in the world today.”
Courtney Allen, who holds just about every Principia women’s tennis record in the book, is no stranger to winning. During her time at Principia College, Allen appeared in eight consecutive national championship title matches. She was the National Singles Champion in ’84, ’85, and ’87, the DIII National Doubles Champion in ’84, ’86, and ’87, and doubles runner-up in ’85. Triumphing at both the baseline and the net, she holds the most career doubles wins and best doubles record (78–11), most singles wins in a season (37), and best doubles record in a season when she and partner Sue (Godfrey) Huffman (C’88) compiled a 28–1 record in 1987. Allen was the first Division III tennis player inducted into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Women’s Hall of Fame with the likes of tennis greats such as Billie Jean King.
“If you love the sport you’re playing, prepare well, lay it on the line, and be present in the moment. Don’t be timid about confronting your weaknesses. Attack them or you’ll only succeed in hindering your own growth.”
NGOZI (MWANAMWAMBWA) ASINGA
TRACK & FIELD
Former standout sprinter and seven-time NCAA Division III All-American, Ngozi Mwanamwambwa-Asinga, took her first step towards the Olympics on Elieston Road on the Principia College campus. She recalls Coach (Lee) Suarez driving alongside her, pushing her to keep going when she didn’t feel like completing the run. She recalls “changing forever that day.” Mwanamwambwa-Asingacompeted in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic games, running the women’s 400 meters in ’92 and the 100, 200, and 400 in ’96. She was the first woman to represent her country of Zimbabwe at the 1992 games.
Mwanamwambwa-Asinga later founded the company “GoGo Fitness” where her goal is to inspire, motivate, and lead people to accomplish their fitness and health goals.
“I remember my time at the College when Coach (Lee) Suarez drove her car next to me on a routine (and dreaded) Eliestoun run yelling, ‘Ngozi, we’re going to be here all night if we need to be.’ We finished the run, and that day I made a pact with myself to start putting in the effort. This was a true turning point for me athletically.”
LAUREN (WORLEY) CORNTHWAITE
TRACK & FIELD, BASKETBALL, FIELD HOCKEY
Lauren Cornthwaite is described as a versatile, dedicated athlete by those who coached her. She played field hockey and basketball and ran long distance on the track and field team at Principia School. She went on to play field hockey as a four-year starter at Dartmouth College and, later, she coached at the University of Pennsylvania and Lindenwood University. Cornthwaite was selected as a Regional All-American, a two-time All-Ivy Team Member, and team captain during her time at Dartmouth.
Cornthwaite is now a leader in the world of field hockey and serves as the director of Aim Field Hockey in Kirkwood, Missouri, an organization that teaches girls and young women to play and excel at the sport.
“The experiences I had and lessons I learned at Principia Upper School while playing sports have stayed with me—the love I garnered for field hockey at Principia moved me into the coaching profession and eventually gave me the tools and inspiration to turn my passion into a business that I run today.”
BASEBALL, BASKETBALL, SOFTBALL
During her years at Principia Upper School, Jenna played with grit and passion on the varsity girls’ softball and varsity boys’ baseball team with her father, Bill Marston, as her coach. After graduating from the Upper School, Jenna played Division I softball at the University of Missouri where she was recruited to play on the USA Baseball Women’s National Team. In 2015, the team won the gold medal in women’s baseball at the XVII Pan American Games in Toronto. The U.S. women defeated the host country 11–3 in the finals. This is one of Jenna’s most “memorable moments” in her athletic career.
“It was during my time playing softball at Principia that I learned about the concept of serious fun from Coach (Ken) Levoy. I’d tell athletes today that it’s important to remember to enjoy the hard work, the practices, the games, and everything in between. This helped me understand that you can be ‘all in’ while never losing that playful passion.”
100 YEARS OF ACHIEVEMENT
Girls are first to represent The Principia in an outside competition against Central High basketball team.
College’s Women’s Athletic Association joins the Annual Conference of American College Women.
Julie Oakes (US’40, C’44) joins Upper School as coach and girls’ athletic director.
June M. Tuffli Award established for the Upper School girl who excels in multiple sports each year.
College women’s tennis team with Courtney Allen (C‘87) and Sue (Godfrey) Huffman (C’88) win NCAA national championships, Division III.
Girls’ Class 1A-2A Place 1st in Cross Country.
Ngozi (Mwanamwambwa) Asinga (US’89, C’93) is the Division III national champion in the 200 meters.
Jacquelyn (Field) Star (C’97) wins NCAA Division III Diver of the Year and is named an 8-time All-American.
Girls' Class 2 District Softball takes 1st Place.
Christina Speer (US’05, C’09) named 3-time SLIAC Player of the Year for volleyball, leading the nation in kills per set. In basketball, Speer sets the conference record for points scored in a career.
The College women’s soccer team goes 39–1 in conference play, earning a spot in the National Tournament three of those four seasons.
Girls' Class 1 District Soccer wins 1st place.
Upper School girls’ soccer wins districts and takes second place at state championship.
Track & field legend Ngozi (Mwanamwambwa) Asinga (US’89, C‘93) and tennis/soccer star Carlie (Sanderude) Satchwell (C‘14) inducted into SLIAC Hall of Fame.