40 in 40 - Betsy Kuhle
Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, wmubroncos.com takes a look at 40 key moments/females in the history of women’s athletics at Western Michigan University. Though the selection process, an effort was made to highlight a moment and player/coach from each of our current women’s sports programs, as well pay respect to our women’s legacy sports. A different feature will be released each of the 40 days, July 24 through Sept. 1.
Women's Tennis Head Coach: 1982-present
Career Record: 506-261
Seven-Time MAC Coach of the Year
11 MAC Regular Season Championships
Four MAC Tournament Championships
Four NCAA Tournament Appearances
WMU Athletic Hall of Fame: 2006
Few coaches in the history of Western Michigan athletics - scratch that, few coaches in the history of the Mid-American Conference - can boast the amount of success that Broncos women's tennis coach Betsy Kuhle can after 30 seasons at the helm. A seven-time MAC Coach of the Year and a 2006 WMU Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, Kuhle has set the standard to which all other women's tennis programs in the conference aspire.
Kuhle's overall record is staggering; her mark of 506-261 makes her one of just two coaches in the history of Western Michigan athletics to reach 500 career wins. Kuhle is among only three active coaches in the MAC to top the 500-win plateau at one institution, in any sport. Under Kuhle, the Broncos have won 11 MAC regular season championships and four MAC tournament championships. The Broncos won the MAC Tournament in both 1999 and 2000, becoming the conference's first-ever automatic entry to the NCAA Tournament.
The ultimate sign of Kuhle's leadership can be seen in the program's consistency; in her thirty seasons as coach, the Broncos have never finished lower than third in the MAC.
The program's academic success parallels the Broncos' success on the court. Fifty-three of Kuhle's players have been named to the MAC All-Academic team; eight have been named ITA/Volvo Scholar-Athletes; and three were GTE Academic All-District choices. Kuhle's program has been honored as an ITA All-Academic team 16 years in a row, and there have been an amazing total of 51 Broncos named to the ITA All-Academic Team in that time.
Kuhle started her collegiate playing and coaching careers in a landscape quite different from today. She had been a student-athlete at Illinois, graduating in 1976, before many of the luxuries afforded to today's female student-athletes were a reality. Because of her experience playing at the collegiate level, Kuhle was hired at the beginning of the 1982-83 season.
"I was 27 years old and knew I had an opportunity," said Kuhle. "I remember in the interview, Christine Hoyles and Tom Wonderling asked me how much I wanted to be paid. I told them I didn't care, that I just wanted the job."
"Back in those days, we players didn't have anything to look forward to like they have now," said Kuhle. "There was no opportunity, no pro tennis to a certain degree. We got in right on the cusp of when they started hiring full-time coaches for women's sports. We were lucky to get in at that time."
Kuhle and the Broncos would find success early and often. WMU finished with a 22-6 record in Kuhle's first year at the helm, including an undefeated mark in the conference, and the Broncos would capture the program's first MAC championship in 1984 with three individual champions.
It wouldn't be the last time Kuhle led the Broncos to the top of the conference. WMU has taken the MAC championship 11 times under Kuhle's direction, including an impressive four consecutive titles from 2005-08 in which the Broncos did not lose a single conference match.
However, Kuhle says that perhaps the most exciting memory of her coaching career came in 1999, when the Broncos won the MAC Tournament and earned the conference's first-ever automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Broncos were the underdog in the MAC tournament, winning as the third seed, and earned a trip to Los Angeles to play against UCLA.
"I think that was probably the most exciting day we've ever had," said Kuhle. "You just couldn't match it. It was like a fairy tale."
Kuhle said she has seen tremendous improvement in the women's game since taking over the program - "the depth of quality players is so much greater now," said Kuhle - as well as progress in regards to gender equity in college athletics. However, she cautions that student-athletes of the current era must never forget the struggles of those women's athletics pioneers.
"There has been a tremendous amount of progress, but there is still more to be made," said Kuhle. "I think to myself, if you don't understand the past, you're doomed to repeat it. These women have great opportunity, but they need to strive to provide it to others. It's a history that needs to be understood and respected."