At schools with big football or men's basketball cultures, it can be easy to overlook the often more successful women's teams. From basketball to swimming, universities around the country produce perennially successful women's programs and I truly wish I could recognize them all.
These seven schools not only boast successful women's NCAA teams, but also have several opportunities for women to get involved in intercollegiate club and recreational athletics.
1. Stanford University
Known well for its women's basketball team's perennial success in the NCAA tournament and its strong soccer and synchronized swimming programs, the Lady Cardinal participate in 20 NCAA Division I sports. To boot, the women's athletics program has won the Capital One Cup for the last two years — the award recognizing the best men's and women's athletics programs in the country (and they're leading the race for this year's award). Stanford also offers 26 intramural sports that are all open to both males and females. Co-ed teams must be half and half, women and men, and some sports also have a women-only league.
2. The University of Tennessee
The figurehead of the entire Volunteers athletic program is the legendary Pat Summitt. She is the winningest coach of any man or woman in any division and in 2012 completed her 38th and final year as head coach of the women's basketball team. This team also leads women's basketball with the highest attendance in the nation, with 14,414 people attending each game. On the intramural side, Tennessee has 37 sports in men's, women's, and co-ed divisions. The great part? Women may participate in the men's league if they desire.
3. Gonzaga University
(Disclaimer: Yes, I went here. Yes, that's why it's on this list. Yes, I'm using my status on PolicyMic as a way to get the word out about this amazing school. Yes, I'm proud of it!)
This small liberal arts school in Spokane, Wash. is no stranger to the big stage. The Lady Zags basketball team — which has only been Division I since 1987 — ranks 14th in the nation in per-game attendance and has gone as far as the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament. Not to be outdone, women's NCAA rowers have won the vast majority of the last Eastern College Athletic Conference and Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association titles. Every year, 58% of Gonzaga students participate in any of 24 intramural sports offered throughout the year, with women's and co-ed leagues available.
4. Penn State University
A perennial Capital One Cup contender, the Lady Lions are strong across the board. In the fall 2012 season, women's teams saw tTop -5 finishes in volleyball, field hockey, and soccer. The volleyball team's successes are unparalleled: they have made the NCAA tournament every year since 1981 and have won the championship 5 times. Two of its basketball players were also selected in Monday's WNBA draft. On the recreational side, Penn State offers residence hall, fraternity, men's, women's, and co-ed intramural leagues across 28 sports.
5. University of Louisville
Fresh off a historic tournament run, the Cardinals women's basketball team brought out the best in Louisville women's sports. Second only to Tennessee in per-game attendance, women's basketball is one of the most successful programs on campus. The university has 12 NCAA sports for women, with strong showings in softball and volleyball as well as basketball. Women may participate in any of 33 intramural sports in a program that serves 500,000 students and community members every year.
6. University of California
Cal boasts 14 NCAA sports, 4 of which won Pac-12 titles in the fall of 2012. They are legitimate Capital One Cup competitors every year despite having few national championships to their credit. Their most successful women's team by far is the swimming and diving team, which has won 3 of the last 5 NCAA titles. This team's greatness was bolstered in October, when Olympic swimming champion Missy Franklin committed to attend the university. The Golden Bears participate in 10 intramural sports, in addition to a variety of club intercollegiate athletics.
7. University of Connecticut
A list concerning women's athletics simply isn't complete without the powerhouse that is the Huskies of UConn. With 12 NCAA teams in competition, 33 intercollegiate club sports, and 24 intramural sports offered to women, UConn is a female athlete's paradise. It helps, of course, that the popular women's basketball team has brought the spotlight to women's athletics, having won 7 NCAA championships since 2000 and preparing stars like Tina Charles and Maya Moore to be picked first in the WNBA draft in consecutive years. The Lady Huskies are currently #5 in the Capital One Cup competition.