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In 1974, Nancy Winstel joined the women’s college basketball team at Northern Kentucky University as a walk-on. She had little basketball experience, never having played on a high school team—her high school didn’t even have girl’s basketball. Despite her inexperience, Winstel served NKU as a talented student athlete, but her legacy didn’t end there. Appointed head coach at NKU in 1983, she gained a reputation as one of the most successful coaches in women’s college basketball history with more than 500 wins. Winstel garnered these victories in an athletic landscape vastly different from the one she knew as an NKU undergraduate. Many of the student-athletes on her twenty-first-century squads have been playing organized basketball for most of their lives. In a post–title IX America, more women than ever are involved in team sports and their teams attract a large following of enthusiasts.

NKU professor Robert K. Wallace, one of many passionate fans of the Norse, has brought his appreciation for the team’s players and their accomplishments to Thirteen Women Strong: The Making of a Team. Chronicling the 2006–07 season of twelve remarkable student-athletes and their legendary coach, Wallace was granted unprecedented access to the team. Sitting in on closed meetings and practice sessions, he follows the players through grueling training drills, intensely close games, exhilarating wins, and anguished losses.

During the 2005–06 season, a squad of NKU women with no seniors achieved unanticipated success, earning a 27–5 record that led to a Great Lakes Valley Conference championship. The entire team returned the following season to expectations of even greater success, but their 2006–07 season was plagued by injuries and other major obstacles. After a string of tough losses, the women mounted a comeback to earn a 21–8 record and reach the NCAA Division II Tournament once again. The team’s story is one of loss, triumph, and personal growth.

Thirteen Women Strong profiles each member of the team, including the coach. Wallace provides keen insight into the emotional and physical demands of high-level competition. Exploring the impact of Title IX legislation on women’s collegiate sports with the critical eye of a scholar and the love of a fan, Wallace documents the story of how thirteen women faced high expectations and difficult trials to come together as a team, their growth culminating in the 2007–08 national championship. Thirteen Women Strong is a fascinating study of this dynamic group of female student-athletes and their renowned leader.

Robert K. Wallace, Regents Professor of Literature at Northern Kentucky University, is the author of numerous books.

"This fluid, eloquent tribute to the joys and sorrow often associated with the learning process offers a variety of life lessons for everyone, especially young adults searching for identity and purpose, through the grace and powers of thirteen student-athletes who grow physically, emotionally, and intellectually on nearly every page."—Ron Ellis, editor of Of Woods & Waters: A Kentucky Outdoors Reader

"Dr. Wallace's narrative is sprinkled with insightful literary gems--literary 3-pointers, if you will--that charm the reader and lift this story above the plethora of 'as told to' books on sports celebrities and star-crossed seasons."—J. Patrick Moynahan, Vice Provost, Northern Kentucky University

"Thirteen Women Strong is a fascinating study of a dynamic set of student athletes and their legendary leader. Wallace goes beyond wins and losses to write a tale about the enduring themes of strength, leadership, and teamwork."—Inside Your Town

"These student-athletes embody, in a more dramatic and public way, the internal strength and dedication required by any student who wants to get the most from his or her college experience."—NKU Book Connection

"The power of this book is how basketball shapes the lives of the young women who play it. Wallace, a literature professor at Northern Kentucky, chronicles his school’s women’s team during the 2006-2007 season, journaling readers through wins, losses, injuries, teachable moments and individual epiphanies."—Champion

"[An] ingenious portrayal of dynamic leadership, sportsmanship, and teamwork."—Northern Kentucky Heritage

"One of loss, triumph, and personal growth. . . . Thirteen Women Strong is a fascinating study of this dynamic group of female student-athletes and their renowned leader."—NACWAA

"The personal dynamics as these girls developed into a team and as they face the pressure of tournament play, the place of women’s athletics on the college campus and in the world of NCAA Division II, and Winstel’s philosophy of coaching and her leadership style make this an important contribution in the literature of college sports."—Kentucky Kaleidoscope

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Northern Kentucky University, Women's basketball, Basketball, Norse, Kentucky


Sports Studies


Afterword by Nancy Winstel

Thirteen Women Strong: The Making of a Team
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