A generation before Mychal Johnson, well before Alexis Hornbuckle and Renee Montgomery and even before Vicky Bullett, there was Mary Ostrowski.
The Parkersburg Catholic graduate who was the state's first true women's basketball star was a 6-foot-2 powerhouse who dominated the sport in its infancy as an SSAC championship event, guiding the Crusaderettes to Class A state championships in 1977 and 1978, winning the Russell A. "Rat" Thom Award as the state's girls basketball player of the year each year from 1977-79.
Ostrowski, who also guided Pat Summitt-coached Tennessee to NCAA Final Four appearances in 1981, '82 and '84 and played for the United States team that won the gold medal at the 1983 World University Games, died Friday night at the age of 51 following an extended battle with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer.
"Mary was a great person who battled this disease with the same fight and determination she displayed as a competitor on the basketball court," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said in a statement released by the university Sunday afternoon.
"It's difficult to process and accept the loss of a wonderful woman like Mary, and our hearts and condolences go out to her family."
Warlick, who was a senior guard with the Lady Vols during Ostrowski's freshman season, took over for Summitt in 2012 after serving as a Lady Vols assistant coach since 1985. Her use of the word 'family' is particularly noteworthy in recognition of Ostrowski's passing for reasons that exceed its place in an obligatory statement of sympathy.
Every current and former high school girls basketball player in West Virginia is family to Mary Ostrowski.
"Parkersburg Catholic High School, all former and current Crusaderettes and the sport of basketball are blessed beyond belief to have been affected by Mary Ostrowski," Maggie Boelter said Sunday afternoon
Boelter, a rising senior point guard at Kenyon (Ohio) College and an All-State pick while at Catholic in 2009 and '10, said Ostrowski's life and career served as a multi-dimensional blueprint for not just PC athletes, but for everyone who knew her.
"Mary O not only provided me with a role model in terms of basketball but also in terms of what it meant to be courageous and strong and brave in the face of adversity.
"I think that's a legacy that will continue to be celebrated forever."