Geneva’s Nadine Cox was such an outstanding track athlete that it would be easy to forget that she also starred in other sports.
In basketball — the sport at which she will be honored by her induction into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on April 13 at the Conneaut Human Resources Center — she was good enough that Harvard offered her a scholarship.
Yes, that Harvard.
There is little dispute that Cox made the right decision to attend Ohio State on a track scholarship. By the time she finished her eligibility at the very place where she had enjoyed one of the greatest performances in state track meet history (more on that later), Cox had won three Big Ten championships in the discus and shot put, one of them in the shot as a freshman. She also reached as high as third at the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women’s national championships and 10th in the USA Track and Field national championships.
Cox showed her athleticism at an early age, winning the softball throw at the sixth grade’s Field Day. She began track in junior high school. Since, at 5-foor-10 1/2, she was fairly tall and coaches felt height was an advantage for certain events, she was thrust into the throwing the shot and discus.
Height was also an advantage in volleyball and basketball, of course, and Cox excelled at both of them, too.
“I loved basketball and volleyball,” she said. “I probably could have played college basketball if I had taken the kind of interest in it that Anita (Tersigni) did.”
The years Cox played — 1978-79 and 1979-80, her junior and senior years — were seasons of strength for the Eagles in girls basketball, which had been contested as an NEC sport for only a few years, at the time. Geneva went 18-3 her junior year, winning an NEC and sectional championship. Her senior year the Eagles were 21-3, repeating as NEC champs and winning another sectional title.
Cox was a vital part in the Geneva machine.
“I played in junior high and worked my way up the ranks,” Cox said. “We had a lot of good players at Geneva as upperclassmen (like Kim Korver) and for a while, I watched and learned from these wonderful, competitive players as a junior-varsity player.
“By my junior year, I started in a forward position, playing opposite of Anita Tersigni. I was a year-round athlete at Geneva, participating in volleyball and, of course, track. But I think that basketball rounded me out as an athlete, improved my overall athleticism, which paid off for me, especially later in track and field. And while it may sound cliche, I learned a lot about teamwork from basketball, people offering their best up toward a common goal, pushing each other to excel together. It’s the best stuff athletics has to offer.”
Though the Eagles’ record was slightly better in her senior year, Cox feels the team Geneva put on the court her junior year was a better one.
“Anita and I were juniors that year and we had some really strong seniors on the team, like Liz Jessup and Becci Rocco,” she said. “Liz was our point guard, our playmaker, smart, quick and elusive. Becci, a great all-around athlete, added even more dimension to our team’s weaponry.”
Other contributors included Becky Ritchie, Sonia DeJesus, Edie Doherty and Terry Hudson.
“That created a very deep bench,” Cox said.
“We had great leadership in our seniors and a wonderful balance of attacking point and wing positions, with two forwards who were aggressive and relentless on the boards on both sides. If the ball ended up anywhere near that board and the shot did not go in, it was a darn good bet we’d rebound it and score off of it.
“I think that this allowed our players to work the outside shot more and open up the key. We didn’t have 3-pointers back then, but if we had, we may have been even tougher to beat. And when you put a penetrating quick player like Liz into that mix, we’d score. When you have an Anita Tersigni on your team, who had exceptional inside play and who also happens to have a great outside shot, we’d score.
“We’d score if we made the shot and we’d score if we didn’t. And you couldn’t press us defensively, we were too quick and had really good ballhandling skills. We were tough on defense, but offensively, we were at our best. What I remember most about my teammates is their dedication to excellence. We really pushed each other to get better, to do our absolute best. Anita and I would have countless one-on-one scrimmage sessions after practice, on weekends, anytime we could find an open gym. We really challenged ourselves to be the best we could be.”
The Eagles were coached those years by Sally (Toukonen) Dulak, whom Cox credits for much of Geneva’s success.
“Somehow, Coach Toukonen figured out how to use our talents to our best advantage,” Cox said. “Things always felt balanced and complementary on the floor. She always had a specific game plan that did not expose our weaknesses but looked for ways to use our strengths to target and exploit our opponents’ weaknesses. She was not an ‘in your face’ type of coach. She didn’t need to be. She got us. She knew that we demanded excellence from ourselves and nurtured that, facilitated our own leadership, encouraged our own destiny.
“She believed in excelling at the fundamentals as well, drilling into us ballhandling, passing, shooting, boxing out and rebounding skills. I remember hours on end of shooting free throw after free throw and running laps in between to mimic the game situation. She would also look for ways to really challenge us — often scrimmaging boys teams, picking up the speed of our game, taking us to the next level. As a female coach, she was unapologetic in her pride in us as talented female athletes. We felt that support and I think it really contributed to our success.”
Though many years have passed since those days at Geneva, Cox remembers two games in particular, both her senior year.
“We were undefeated and were playing against Ashtabula; we won that night by only two points,” Cox said. “They were a fast team and ran us to death. We were having an off night and we really had to dig down deep and gut that one out. It spurred us on later to make sure we never put ourselves in that position again and galvanized us for the rest of the season.
“I also remember our loss against Mentor in the district semifinals. It was our last game together, the last game I’d play for Geneva with these wonderful teammates. I remember sitting down in the middle of the floor at the final buzzer, feeling exhausted and sad and disappointed and satisfied all at the same time. It was one of those lifetime moments of reflection, realizing what I had been a part of and how truly special it had all been.”
That game ended Cox’s competitive basketball career. But it wouldn’t have, had she accepted that Harvard offer. And she did consider it.
“Yes, I did,” she said. “Who wouldn’t? I left Geneva with the confidence that I would have done well had I played basketball in college, but my track career was calling. I don’t regret my decision, but it’s fun to daydream about it sometimes.”
Cox still had her senior year of track to compete in, and she made the most of it. With the help of Eagles track coach Linda Henry, Cox had honed her skills to the point where, as a junior, she won the discus championship at the state meet in Columbus with a throw of 140 feet after finishing second her sophomore year.
“In my senior year, my goal became getting to state in four events,” she told the late Karl Pearson in 2007. “I knew I could make it in the discus and shot put. I was thinking about trying to get out in the 200, but I knew it was going to be tough getting out of the Cleveland area in that event, so they put me in a relay. That didn’t quite work out.”
So Henry and Cox gave that up, and took a shot at the long jump.
“We sort of found the long jump out of the blue,” Henry said.
That was two weeks before the state meet. Astonishingly, she took third place in the event in Columbus, and added a fifth in the shot put.
But it was her best event, the discus, at which she really shone that weekend. On her last throw — each of her six throws had surpassed the preceding one — she hurled the discus 155 feet, two inches. It was a meet record and it stood for several years. That throw still stands as an Ashtabula County record, nearly 34 years later.
While she was at Ohio State, establishing herself as one of the best female discus throwers in the country, Cox was preparing for a career in medicine.
She originally wanted to be a veterinarian, like her uncle. But she took her degree in medical technology in 1985 and worked in the medical laboratory industry for nine years.
Eventually, she decided she wanted a more personal connection in medicine and went back to Ohio State for her medical degree, graduating in 1998.
After serving her internship and medical residency at Mount Carmel Medical Center, she established her own private practice in Gahanna, near Columbus, in 2001.
“I am currently working on joining a larger practice sometime this year,” Cox, now 51 years old, said. “While I see all types of patients now, I still have a special place in my heart for the athlete. I have been the team physician at a local high school, The Columbus Academy, for the past 12 years. I see myself and my teammates in these kids while working the sidelines — the drive, the dedication, the push to achieve something that you can look back on years later and still be proud.”
She is no longer much of an active athlete, but continues to contribute in sports.
“At 51 years old, I feel my athletics catching up to me,” she said. “I am not playing any sports now, but have dabbled in racquetball and league volleyball through the years. I did coach track and field athletes at Worthington High School right after leaving college.
“There is something so rewarding in seeing a young female athlete first believe in you as a coach, follow your plan, and see the confidence build in them, culminating in their success. I coached a great group of kids for four years, before leaving to enter medical school.
“I have recently moved out into Delaware County, and started walking my dog in my neighborhood. I passed one of my neighbor’s homes last spring and there was a young girl out throwing the discus in her yard. What are the chances, right? We have since teamed up and I am working with her and her sister now. So I am back to coaching and really enjoying it.”
Cox’s mother, Lynn, and her father, also Lynn, continue to live in Geneva. Her sister, Meredith, resides in West Virginia and works in business administration, while her brother, Matthew, lives in Texas and is employed in restaurant management.
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sportswriter, is a freelance writer from Geneva.
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