HEADWAY: NSU's Suiaunoa, Brown, Evans and Edwards are apart of the rise in women's athletics

Byron Beers | Daily Press

Northeastern State University women's basketball head coach Fala Suiaunoa is the only female head coach at NSU.

Fala Suiaunoa, Aubrey Brown, Savannah Evans and Raegan Edwards are involved in a time when women's athletics is bigger than it's ever been.

Title IX was put into place on June 23, 1972 to eliminate sexual discrimination and advance equal opportunity. It states, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

There's been a lot of progress in now what has been 50 years when it comes to women in sports.

The NCAA Women's Final Four has become a primetime event, and the NCAA Women's College World Series has continued to gain steam on a yearly basis at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.

Even professionally, the Women's National Basketball Association, and more recently, Women's Professional Fastpitch, have emerged.

Suiaunoa has seen a lot of changes for the better through her career as both a player and a coach. Suiaunoa has been women's basketball head coach for five years at NSU. She's also a former player and graduate assistant under Randy Gipson.

"I think the popularity of girls and women in sports has grown tremendously," Suiaunoa said. "I think a big part of that is the visibility…the TV, social media, for sure. I think just young girls knowing that they get to play, they can play if they want to play, and it's a choice that they get to make and decide."

Suiaunoa is currently the only female head coach at Northeastern State University and the only Polynesian women's head coach in the country on the collegiate level.

"It's pretty awesome to be representing our sport," she said. "I'm fortunate to be the only female head coach on campus, and I think it's good for our players to see a woman in a position where she's recognized, and that's not always been the case.

"We talk a lot with our players about empowering each other and empowering them to go find positions where they want to work when they're done playing. It's a dogfight out there. Man, woman, White, Black, Puerto Rican or Asian, it doesn't matter. We're in a time when someone's got something a little bit better than you. You can't just lean on your work ethic, you've got to have networking skills, you've got to have this and that."

Brown, who is a redshirt junior on the NSU women's basketball team and a former standout guard at Sequoyah High School, likes where things are, but says there are ways to further advance female sports.

"I think it's getting better," Brown said. "I think there's room for improvement and it can always get better. From a basketball point of view, I would say like the NBA…how many people tuned in to watch? How much broadcasting did they have? Advertising…they have way more advertising than the WNBA. I think that there's definitely room for improvement. It should be improved."

Brown has played in 29 games over the last two years after redshirting as a freshman. She started in four games as a sophomore and recorded career highs in points (11) and assists (seven) against Northwestern Oklahoma in the 2021-22 season.

Evans and Edwards, who both graduated from Broken Arrow High School in 2020, will both be juniors in 2023 on the NSU softball team.

Evans, who played on Oklahoma State's WCWS team in 2021, had 26 appearances in the pitcher's circle this past season for the RiverHawks. She posted a 2.80 ERA and recorded a team-high 101 strikeouts in 127.1 innings.

"It's skyrocketed into the new generations that have come in," Evans said of the current state of women's athletics. "There's more opportunities now, and the women who fought for that 50 years ago…we wouldn't have the opportunities that we do without them. It's not just athletically, but academically. We get to be whatever we want, or we get to whatever we want. It's not only equality, but it makes women stronger."

Edwards hit .240 with eight home runs and drove in 26 runs in her first season at NSU after transferring from University of Texas-Arlington. She started in all 53 of the RiverHawks' games.

"Going to the College World Series and being at the OU vs. OSU game and seeing a sold out stadium…that's good for us, and it's good for softball," Edwards said. "I love seeing people enjoy softball because a couple years ago it wasn't like that. I love seeing how so many more people are invested in softball, invested in women's basketball and how stadiums are getting sold out."

Evans and Edwards still think things can be better, particularly with facilities and broadcasting.

"Television wise, I think there can be more exposure," Evans said.

"I think there can be a little better broadcasting," Edwards said. "I just feel like we don't get as much broadcasting as male sports do. The WNBA is getting better, professional softball is getting better, but I just feel like they're not showing as much of it as they do men's sports."

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