Trailblazing volleyball alumna honored for Title IX anniversary

Three Pacific volleyball players celebrate their championship win.

Elaina Oden (jersey No. 2) and teammates celebrate their 1986 NCAA volleyball championship.

Elaina Oden’s volleyball prowess and trailblazing efforts for collegiate women’s sports are among the reasons University of the Pacific and the West Coast Conference are honoring her during their celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
Oden led Pacific to NCAA national volleyball championships in 1985 and 1986 and earned a bronze medal playing for the United States in the 1992 Olympics. Her career spanned the early years of Title IX, the 1972 law that protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

Now a Southern California resident and an auditor for the State of California, Oden graduated from Pacific in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and went on to earn an MBA at Chapman University. 

“When I became aware of college athletics, there were scholarships for women,” Oden said. Her older sister, Kim, had accepted a scholarship as a volleyball student-athlete at Stanford. “It’s when I had the chance to talk with older players that I learned how far women in sports had come.”

Oden said specialized training equipment, nutrition counseling and other resources that are now common in women’s college athletics were absent in the years after Title IX was enacted.

“It was the wild, wild west,” Oden said of her time participating at the college and national level. “Twenty-five-year-old guys were getting head coaching jobs. Players had to weigh in. Training could last six hours.” She said rule changes and guidelines eventually made it “a much friendlier place to play” (for women).

“The economics of college volleyball changed as well,” Oden said. “When I played, there was no difference between the Pac-8 (Conference) and us.” She believes “football money” has influenced the larger programs to invest more in volleyball, creating a divide among Division I members and making it more challenging for Pacific to compete at a national level as it did in the 1980s and 1990s.

Oden was the prize recruit in Head Coach John Dunning’s first class at Pacific in 1985. She made an immediate impact as a freshman, leading the Tigers to the NCAA national championship over Stanford, which was led by her sister Kim.

With several top players graduating, Oden led a young group of Tigers to a second national championship in 1986—this time with the Final Four played at Pacific’s Spanos Center. Pacific prevailed over Nebraska in the match.

Oden suffered a knee injury and could not play in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. After battling back, Oden played with her sister Kim in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, where the United States won a bronze medal. She retired after competing in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. 

“I still follow volleyball, and I love the Pacific program,” Oden said. “If there is a choice to buy something orange, I buy it. The only sports I watch are Pacific sports and the Olympics.”