JENNIFER MC FALL
Walk inside Diane (Cummings) Turnham’s office inside the Murphy Center, and you will see the past, present and future of the MTSU women’s athletic program.
The former Lady Raider assistant women’s basketball and volleyball coach has seen all of the success the university’s athletic department currently enjoys as a member of the Sun Belt Conference.
However, it is nothing compared to what she came into when she was hired to be the school’s first full-time women’s basketball assistant coach and the program’s first ever volleyball head coach back in 1980 after her basketball playing career at Lipscomb ended.
She was hired by her former coach at Mt. Juliet High School, Larry Joe Inman, to help build a program, which back then was a part of the Ohio Valley Conference. It came at a time that college sports was beginning to change to what it is today.
During that time, the NCAA was just beginning to hold a national championship for women’s basketball – the first one was held in 1982 – and the game had just changed from a six-on-six version in which players were not allowed to dribble past half-court to today’s fast paced full court five-on-five version.
Several players helped put the Lady Raider program on the map, but there are a couple in particular who set the mark that influences the program’s success today.
In the early-1980s Cummings, who was in charge in recruiting at that time, brought in a couple of in-state stars, who still hold several of the school’s records even in 2012.
Jennifer McFall was a 6-foot forward from Columbia who stepped on campus in 1981, helping to lead the Lady Raiders to consecutive OVC titles and appearances in the NCAA Tournament. A couple of years later, she was joined by Kim Webb, a 5-foot-9-inch guard from La Vergne who helped continue the success.
Both are the only two women’s basketball players to be inducted into the MTSU Sports Hall of Fame. Webb is also the only player to have her number (25) retired in school history.
“I would put both of them against anybody in the country at that time,” Turnham said.
She added both were the first stars for the program during the current five-on-five era.
“Both of them were great athletes and did a great job of putting MTSU on the map,” she said.
The athletic director at that time and famous men’s basketball coach Jimmy Earle told her she was also going to be in charge of the volleyball team.
“When (Earle) told me I was going to coach the volleyball team, my mouth fell open,” Turnham said. “I just knew the ball was white and round.”
So, she went back to Austin Peay University, where she had a worked previously and learned all she could about the sport.
When she came back to MTSU, she had several challenges in front of her in trying to build two programs at the time.
Title IX was only a few years old, and MTSU was still trying to catch up to its demands. Turnham had to do her recruiting inside the state only, and got some of her players to play both sports because of a lack of scholarships.
A few years later after several successful seasons, she stepped down to concentrate solely on basketball. But before she left the post, she recruited several players and laid the foundation for the Blue Raiders' first OVC volleyball title, the season after she left the position.
As for her knowledge of volleyball, you could say it has improved a lot, because in 2011, she was named by the NCAA to the chair of the Division I Volleyball Committee. Part of the job description is helping decide the 64-team field for the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament.
In her office, she has a sideline chair from the Volleyball Final Four and a piece of the court from last season’s event.
Since those early days, Turnham said things have gotten better for the women’s sports program as a whole on campus.
Today, she serves as associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator for the Lady Raiders. The situation has gotten a lot better thanks to Title IX in terms of the amount of scholarships, the depth of coaches and not having to buy its own equipment unlike the previous era.
On the field it has led to successful Lady Raider women’s teams in many sports. Turnham is happy to play a small part in it, but she added a lot of other school officials and coaches have also done their part to help with the success that MTSU enjoys in the present day.
“A lot of people were committed to making women’s sports important at MTSU,” Turnham said.
When the success continues, Turnham might need a bigger office to hold all of the great memories she made with those she helped along the way.
Editor's note: The bolded portion was rewritten to clarify.