The fall of 1977 was an exciting time! It was this year, at the dedication of the new Angela Athletic Facility that our teams were christened as the Belles for our lady-like charm and our iron will to win. As her doors opened that September, Angela welcomed women who approached sports differently - as competition rather than just recreation. Thanks to Title IX, women were beginning to enjoy the same collegiate athletic opportunities as their male counterparts. A new era had begun for women's athletics.
Ushering in this new era was freshman Maureen O'Brien. Mo was a competitor who excelled in both basketball and tennis for the Belles. In basketball, she was a four-year letter winner and senior captain of the squad. With no archived statistics on record, her accolades are found in article after article from the Observer. She is the one going to the line and sinking her free throws. She is the one cited for driving in to score a clutch basket. She is credited as the leader and the one that stabilizes her team on the floor. Maureen is often noted as the spark her team needed. As the articles list the team's highs, she is often the one finishing in double digits points. Maureen was an impact player that set the bar for the athletes that followed.
As in basketball, the Observer provided weekly accounts of Maureen's value and impact on her tennis team as well; however, in tennis, readers quickly learned that there were two "Maureen O'Briens" playing for the Belles. To avoid confusion, they were often referred to by their nicknames: "Blonde Mo" and her teammate and fellow captain "Brown Mo". Thankfully, they did not share the same hair color or the two would have been indistinguishable for the sports page readers.
Mo and her teammates immediately established Saint Mary's College tennis as a competitive and respected program. She had success her freshman year. She had a notable #2 doubles first place finish at the inaugural Notre Dame/Saint Mary's Tennis invitational, which included nine teams from the region. This 1977-78 team was the runner up at the state tournament, which qualified them to compete at regionals. They went on to win the Midwest Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) Division III Championship. This regional title qualified them to compete at nationals, and they became the first Saint Mary's team to advance to the national championships as they finished the year ranked 15th in the nation.
More tennis success followed for Mo. Despite multiple changes in the coaching staff, her team went 10-1 during her sophomore year. Saint Mary's won several tournaments and capped off the season with a fourth place finish at the state tournament. The next year, the Belles had a repeat fourth place state finish while Maureen garnered recognition as an individual while also finishing third at the #2 doubles position.
In her final year of competition, she led her team to a second place state finish. She placed second place at both the #4 singles and #1 doubles slots. Any other year, a second place finish would have earned the team a berth into the regional event; but this year, only the first place teams advanced. Although a disappointing change to format, one cannot be disappointed in how Mo O'Brien and her teammates cemented Saint Mary's tennis as a top program in the state. In her four years, her tennis teams never finished lower than fourth out of 17 teams in their division.
The Observer's sports staff writers voted Maureen as a top ten finisher amongst all of the female athletes on both campuses for the Edward Krauss Female Athlete of the Year award. She was named the Belle of the Year at the Saint Mary's College athletic department’s All-Sport Award Banquet. As a dual sport athlete and dual sport captain, she left a memorable mark in the history of Belles Athletics.