1999 was a great year. Back when iPhones weren't invented, Bill Clinton was president of the United States and Amazon was just a happy little online bookstore, Principia College watched it's most successful and influential head athletics coach move into an administration role and a new era in Panther volleyball begin. Lee Suarez has long been associated with Panther volleyball and today, Mary Ann Sprague joins her in the record books.
After 27 years as Head Women's Volleyball coach at Principia College, Lee Suarez made the move from coach to an administrator when she became Director of Athletics, serving in that role until her retirement in 2008. As the first female and ethnic minority to serve in the athletics director role at Principia, Suarez dove headlong into an unfamiliar and potentially unfriendly pool and left a wake of ripples that are still felt today.
As Athletics Director, she spearheaded the construction of Crafton Athletic Center and Natatorium as well as the renovation of Hay Field House. The fruits of her tireless labor have impacted countless athletes and individuals who have passed through Principia since her 2008 departure and, although many don't even know her name, she is one of the most important figures in Principia history.
As the head volleyball coach, Suarez won 301 games over the course of her career from 1971-1998. Suarez holds the Principia College record for longest head coaching tenure in any sport- twenty-seven years of coaching is an incredible amount of dedication and service for one sport!
Suarez's 301 wins likewise hold the Principia College record for most wins recorded by any head coach in history. Needless to say, Lee Suarez is a true legend of Principia College that set history, made history, and created future history during her time in Elsah. Her name should be synonymous with greatness and anyone mentioned in the same sentence as she has to have seriously earned that honor.
Mary Ann Sprague has more than earned the honor of being mentioned alongside Lee Suarez as being one of the most influential coaches in Principia College history and she is the reason why we've just run through this brief Principia College Athletics history lesson.
Coach Sprague has made history today.
Conveniently enough, Sprague took over the women's volleyball program after Suarez moved into her new administrative role. In 1999, her debut season, Principia won 5 games and lost 30.
Nineteen years later, Mary Ann Sprague has just won her 301st game and now stands on the verge of head coaching history. From 5 wins in a full season to now 14 in her team's first 16 games, it's easy to see that some rather significant progress has been made.
Coach Sprague has become more than just someone of note, she is a legendary coaching figure who will, much like Suarez did leave a shadow that casts across generations of students who pass through Principia College, whether they ever know her name or not.
Since that five-win debut season, Principia College has tallied a double-digit win total in 17 of the 19 total years that Sprague has been at the helm, highlighted by a stretch from 2005 through 2008 in which the Panthers won 21, 26, 23 and 23 games in each respective season.
Principia College volleyball hasn't seen a win total below 13 since 2002, and that level of consistency is what has helped Mary Ann Sprague reach 300 wins in 8 seasons fewer than Suarez needed.
As for this year's team, the 2017 Panthers' record currently stands at 14-2, the best start to a season since 2006, a year in which Principia finished 26-6.
1999 served as the end of an era in Principia College volleyball when Suarez transitioned to her Athletics Director role. That event could have been calamitous for what, up to that point, had been the school's most successful team sport.
Instead of calamity, 1999 also saw the beginning of a new era of success that we are still able to witness today. Mary Ann Sprague took control of an already great program and has pushed it to new heights. Today serves as a crowning achievement for her tireless years of work building upon the foundation of her legendary predecessor.
STORY COURTESY OF PRINCIPIA COLLEGE SPORTS INFORMATION