1973 national championship volleyball team returns for 50-year anniversary

Eastern Arizona College volleyball legends returned to campus to celebrate their 50-year anniversary for winning the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) national volleyball championship in 1973.

Hall of Fame coach Gerry Hekekia and former players Yvonne Johnson, Colleen Merrill Lunt, Amelia Owens Holtsoi, and Janice Edington were honored at EAC’s game against Pima Community College.

The 1973 EAC Volleyball Team, coached by Mayble Bodine and assisted by Gerry Hekekia, ended their regular season with 15 wins and two losses. Their win at the Arizona state tournament qualified them for a regional tournament in Durango, Colorado. After winning the regional tournament, the team was invited to play in the first AIAW national tournament held at Miami Dade Community College in Miami, Florida.

“If I remember correctly, we raised money and provided our own money to pay our way to the national tournament,” said Yvonne Johnson. “There was no sight-seeing or extras for the trip. We slept four in a room in a motel that had lizards running around on the ceiling and floor. We did drive to the beach long enough for us to put our feet in, and all we saw of Miami was at night, as we drove to or from our motel.”

To prepare for the national tournament, Coach Bodine enlisted Gerry Hekekia’s help to teach the team power volleyball – the latest trend in the sport. Without Hekekia’s help, the team would likely not have fared as well.

“Using what Coach Hekekia taught us, we ended up placing second in pool play on the first two days,” said Johnson. “On the third day, we downed a tough Ricks College team from Rexburg, Idaho. What I remember about Ricks was that they had to play in little skirts, [which] would often hit the net when they jumped up, resulting in a loss of service or point for them. So, they started tucking them into their bloomers. Ricks College, with a change in uniforms, would win the national championship the next year.”

Four years after the 1973 team’s win, the AIAW merged with the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). The four national championship teams named prior to the merger include:  Eastern Arizona College (1973-74), Ricks College (1974-75), Mesa Community College (1975-76), and Santa Ana College (1976-77).

“Over the years, EAC has continued to win titles, but we were always proud to know that we were the very first team to win the very first AIAW junior community college national tournament,” said Johnson.

Members of EAC’s 1973 national championship team included: Judy Davis, Amelia Owens Holtsoi, Janet Stover, Colleen Merrell Lunt, Shauna Thee Purdy, Priscilla Perez Romero, Yvonne Johnson, Ann Delgado Rhoades, Janice Edington, Cindy Danner, Cecelia Haven Benally, Gail Cooper, Debra Jurado, Lydia Melendrez Hoskins, and Helen Talavera.