Volleyball at Western was played at an inter-Western level against Brescia College, Alma College and Waterloo College during the years of the Second World War. Volleyball entered the Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Union (WIAU) league in 1949. Western’s first women’s team was coached by Jean Ramsey. After an exhibition game in early 1949, Western became part of the WIAU league in the 1949-50 season.
Women’s volleyball is a sport for which Western garnered a great deal of attention. Beginning with the 1953-54 volleyball season when Elfrida Kukainis (later Berzins) became coach, the Western women’s intercollegiate volleyball team won thirteen intercollegiate championships, eleven with Coach Berzins.
The team’s success was attributed both to Coach Berzins (or “Mrs. B” as she was affectionately known) and her introduction of the “running spike” – an extremely efficient move in which one player set up the shot and the ball was then propelled at the opposing team’s feet by another player. Between 1953 and 1957, the Western women did not lose a single game at the intercollegiate championships. This was also the case in some of the later victorious seasons. After Mrs. B left her position as volleyball coach in 1964 the team had two more subsequent victories with coaches Yvette Walton and Joy Taylor.
Fran Wigston (Eberhard) coached the volleyball team for much of the 1970s; in the 1960s she had been a student athlete at Western playing both basketball and volleyball under the guidance of Mrs. B.
Click here to see a YouTube video about Fran Wigston (Eberhard) from the London Sports Hall of Fame.
In the 1970s, the volleyball team won a number of Ontario Women’s Interuniversity Athletic Association (OWIAA) championships – victories for the years between 1971 and 1978 belonged to Western. The team also won the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union championships in the 1974-75 and 1975-76 seasons and won second place in both 1972-73 and 1973-74. In the 1973-74 season, volleyball players Therese Quigley, Mary Chrisholm, Denise McLafferty and Judy Alaszkiewicz were offered places on the Canadian national volleyball team.
The volleyball team won six Ontario championships, three Canadian championships and placed second at the Canadian championships four times during the eight years that Fran Wigston was coaching. In the 1980s women’s volleyball coaches included Sian Leyshon, Rob Atkinson and Jill Tuckey. There were a number of volleyball coaches throughout the early 1990s, so many in fact, the stability of the program was threatened. This state of affairs was altered after the 1994-95 season when, coached by Erminia Russo, the team won third place at the OWIAA championships. Between 1996 and 2004, under the guidance of Dean Lowrie, the team placed among the top three national teams on five separate occasions.
In the 1997-98 season, the team became both Ontario University Athletic league and west division champions and, for the first time in two decades, qualified for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport league championships.