KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Mary Ostrowski, a member of the Lady Vol Hall of Fame and one of the all-time greats in UT women’s basketball history, passed away on Friday at the age of 51 in Abingdon, Va., her brother, Eric Ostrowski, told the Parkersburg (W.Va.) News and Sentinel.
Ostrowski, who starred at Parkersburg Catholic High School before becoming the first No. 1 rated recruit to sign and play for Pat Summitt at Tennessee from 1980-84, had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, in 2007.
According to her brother, the family is planning a service in Parkersburg to honor her memory. Details have not been announced.
Ostrowski, whose mother Freda passed away last May, is survived by her father, Chester Ostrowski; two brothers, Paul and Eric Ostrowski; and a sister, Beth Hundman.
“It’s a sad day for the Lady Vol basketball program,” Tennessee Head Coach Holly Warlick said. “We’ve lost a member of our family, a true UT legend and a friend.
“Mary was a great person who battled this disease with the same fight and determination she displayed as a competitor on the basketball court. 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.”
A 2006 Lady Vol Hall of Fame inductee and 1985 UT graduate with a degree in business administration, Ostrowski was a 6-foot-2 forward who scored 1,729 points and grabbed 994 rebounds during her career. She currently ranks 10th and fifth, respectively, in those statistical categories at UT. Only Chamique Holdsclaw (1,295), Glory Johnson (1,218), Sheila Frost (1,043) and Tamika Catchings (1,004) had more boards than the gifted player many called “Mo” or “Big O.”
Ostrowski was a 1982 Kodak All-American and SEC All-Tournament Team member and an All-SEC selection in 1982 and 1984. She averaged 15.9 points and 8.6 rebounds as a senior and tallied career numbers of 13.8 ppg. and 8.0 rpg. to rank 10th and sixth all-time at UT, respectively. Known for her sweet hook shot, she led the team in scoring twice (1981-82, 1983-84) and was the squad’s top rebounder on three occasions (1981-84).
During her time at Rocky Top, Ostrowski helped Tennessee advance to NCAA Final Fours in 1981, 1982 and 1984. She earned a bevy of postseason honors in her senior season, making the NCAA Final Four All-Tournament Team and NCAA Mideast Regional All-Tournament Team and being named the NCAA Mideast Regional MVP. Additionally, she was the NCAA Tournament leading scorer and rebounder during that 1984 campaign.
Internationally, Ostrowski was a member of the U.S. National Team from 1981 to 1983, helping the squad to a gold medal at the 1983 World University Games. She also played on the U.S. Junior National Team from 1978-80.
As a prep standout, Ostrowski was the first female winner and a three-time recipient of the Russell A. Thom Award (1977-79), which is presented to West Virginia’s top basketball player. In 2011, the West Virginia Sports Writers Association renamed the award the Mary Ostrowski Award. The organization also inducted her into the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 2012 as its fifth female honoree.
Ostrowski, who led Parkersburg Catholic to 88-consecutive wins, including class A basketball championships in 1977 and 1978, also was a noted baseball player while growing up. The Parkersburg News and Sentinel recalled her days as a dominating Little League pitcher in an otherwise boys-only league.
In a 1980 interview with Sports Illustrated’s Kathy Blumenstock, Pat Summitt revealed she’d first seen Ostrowski at a basketball camp in Fort Worth, Texas, and thought she was watching a college player. Summitt learned that the future Lady Vol was just preparing to enter her freshman year of high school and the Lady Vol skipper would eventually become the person who convinced the nation’s most highly-recruited player that season to join her program.
“After working with her a bit during that camp, I recognized (she was) a really intelligent, thinking player," Summitt shared with S.I. "She constantly reads the defense. Mo carries herself well and has confidence. I think she's a combination of a natural athlete, because she does have some natural ability, and a self-made one, and she's always been willing to put in hours perfecting her game."
That work ethic no doubt endeared her to Summitt and certainly paved the way for a hall of fame playing career on the hardwood and a successful life in her business career in the years that followed.