Long-time player and coach Marilyn McReavy Nolen, a volleyball pioneer, died on April 13 at the age of 78.
The 1968 Olympian later coached Sul Ross State (twice), New Mexico State, Utah State, Kentucky, Florida, North Florida and Saint Louis. She trained in Saint Louis from 1994 to 2003, retired, but 10 years later returned to Sul Ross, where she started in 1969.
Over 33 seasons, she compiled an 809-387-12 record, which included winning the AIAW National Championships in Sul Ross and Utah State.
Coming out of retirement wasn’t the only thing she did later in life. She and Reverend Randolph Nolen had two sons, Travis and Ryan, whom Marilyn gave birth to at the remarkable age of 55.
During this 10-year “retirement”, Nolen was inducted into the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame as a member of the inaugural class. She was also a member of the Hall of Fame of the Women’s Sports Foundation.
McReavy Nolen attended Howard Junior College before graduating from Southwest Texas State University in 1966 and two years later he played for the USA in the 1968 Olympics. She stayed in the national team until 1975.
As noted in the USA Volleyball memo, McReavy Nolen won two U.S. Women’s Volleyball Open National Titles (1972, ’73) with the E Pluribus Unum and was a four-time All-American. McReavy Nolen helped create the first U.S. National Olympic Training Center in Texas before moving to Colorado Springs.
He is a member of the USA Volleyball Hall of Fame, winning the All-Time Great Coach Award in 1996 and the James E. Coleman National Team Award in 2022.
The US teams that won in 1972 and 1973 were coached by McReavy Nolen and another legendary athlete, Mary Jo Peppler. USA Volleyball noted that the tournaments were then overseen by the Girls’ and Women’s Sports Division of the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation.
“My mentor in graduate school was former U.S. men’s Olympic coach Dr. Jim Coleman,” said another volleyball icon, Ruth Nelson. “At 21, I was the head women’s volleyball coach and head men’s tennis coach at George Williams College. During our history lessons, Jim was always talking about Marilyn and Mary Jo and everything they had done for US Women’s Volleyball.
“After graduating from graduate school, I was invited and made the U.S. national team in 1972.”
Nelson had an offer to move to Houston to join the EPU USVBA National Championship team as a quarterback.
“I was excited, but I just took a full-time position at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance as the president’s executive director,” said Nelson. “I told him about the opportunity and he immediately transferred me to the USVBA Houston branch office so I was able to play right away.
“This marked the beginning of my more than 50-year friendship with the legend.”
McReavy never really left coaching, even in his later years in labor camps.
“She really cared about the sport no matter the level,” said Nelson. “She was my teammate, co-worker, mentor, role model and much more a friend who was always positive and able to find something productive in any situation. And truly a player who always found a way to have FUN on the court, never accepting defeat! We are all blessed that she touched our lives in a very special way! RIP Marilyn.
Penny Lucas-White is the volleyball coach at Alabama State University who played at LSU for Nelson, played on the national team, and was the head coach for Memphis and the Air Force.
“Marilyn was not only a colleague, but also a good friend,” said Lucas-White. “She was the head coach at Saint Louis University while I was at the University of Memphis. We had a great time competing with each other as well as sharing great insights on how to get better at our craft. I love the fact that women’s sports wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for the foresight and unyielding work ethic of women like Marilyn.
“Two special things about Marilyn and our relationship as friends.
1. During her time at Saint Louis, she was leading a dominant attack with the right side because she had so many left-handed players. It was a unique attack and even harder to defend. That should tell you how innovative and creative she was as a coach and person.
2. She and I were pregnant with twins at the same time. I remember talking on the phone when I told her I was pregnant with twins and she laughed telling me she was too. She was to be a pioneer in many aspects of her life. She successfully carried twins at 55 and carried them very well!!
“I will miss you, my dear friend. Until we meet, rest in peace.”
Lou Sara Galloway was McReavy’s Olympic teammate in 1968 and they were lifelong friends.
“It’s a bittersweet day for me,” Galloway said. “My friend Marilyn McReavy-Nolen is finally free of the pain and agony she suffered for 14 months after she was diagnosed with cancer… I know she is at peace.
“Marilyn was my friend and also a teammate during our 60-year friendship. She was one in a million, a truly unique and talented woman who loved volleyball and worked tirelessly throughout her coaching career to give the best of herself to the young women she coached. And her best was amazing.
“She never boasted or was arrogant about her countless accomplishments. Her mood was always upbeat, even during her battle with cancer. She went through a lot of pain, but she never lost hope. … I value the fact that she was a lifelong friend and a great teammate. I will miss her very much and keep her memory alive by remembering and telling about all the wonderful aspects of her personality. She was good and kind and deserves to be celebrated in the volleyball world for those qualities as well as her achievements as a coach. “
At the 2018 USA Volleyball reunion, McReavy Nolen shared what it was like to be with the 1968 Olympic team.
“It was a crazy time. What I remember is that I could eat in all the canteens. Each country had its own, so you could walk around and eat different foods. There was a concern that we might get sick from eating other food. Early in the morning I was going down to the track which was far below. I just sat on the wall and watched these phenomenal people as they practiced at the track in the morning. It was an amazing thing. I remember it like it was yesterday.
“I think the other thing was that there weren’t that many women there. We had a hotel, there was a fence around it and we were watched over. I thought it was extraordinary.
“But also going downtown and hanging around. Movement and people. We traded everything. I brought my dad this bright yellow jacket from France, which I exchanged. He wore it forever. I managed to get some West German warm-up material. Everyone was behind it. All different pins.
From her obituary in the Roswell Daily Record:
In 1988, she married Rev. Randolph Nolen, then a naval chaplain, to whom she remained married for 35 years until his death. They settled in Roswell, New Mexico. They raised two outstanding sons, Travis Steven of Socorro, New Mexico, and Ryan David of Austin, Texas.
In addition to her immediate family, she was survived by sister Jo Theriot (Tom) of Hico, Texas, sister-in-law Sharon McReavy of Hockley, Texas, nieces Laura McReavy Hearnsberger and Holly Longenbach (Michael), and nephews Chris McReavy (Emily), Marcus Theriot (Alicia) and Matthew Theriot (Amber).