1968 USA Olympic volleyball team including McReavy Nolen (No. 10)/USAV photo

Longtime player and coach Marilyn McReavy Nolen, a volleyball pioneer, died April 13 at 78. 

The 1968 Olympian later was the coach at Sul Ross State (twice), New Mexico State, Utah State, Kentucky, Florida, North Florida and Saint Louis. At Saint Louis, she coached from 1994-2003, retired, but 10 years later went back to Sul Ross, where she started in 1969. 

In 33 seasons, she compiled a record of 809-387-12, which included winning AIAW national championships at Sul Ross and Utah State.

Coming out of retirement wasn’t the only thing she did later in life. She and Rev. Randolph Nolen had two sons, Travis and Ryan, which Marilyn delivered at the remarkable age of 55.

During that 10-year “retirement,” Nolen was inducted into the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame as a member of the inaugural class. She also was a member of the Women’s Sports Foundation Hall of Fame.

McReavy Nolen attended Howard Junior College before graduating from Southwest Texas State University in 1966 and two years later played for the USA in the 1968 Olympics. She stayed with the national team through 1975.

Marilyn McReavy Nolen accepts the USAV All-Time Great Coach Award in 1996/USAV photo

As USA Volleyball noted in its remembrance, McReavy Nolen went on to win two USA Volleyball women’s open national titles (1972, ’73) with E Pluribus Unum and she was a four-time All-American. McReavy Nolen helped develop the first U.S. Olympic national training center in Texas, before it moved to Colorado Springs.

She is a member of the USA Volleyball Hall of Fame, having won the All-Time Great Coach Award in 1996 and the James E. Coleman National Team Award in 2022.

Those USA teams that won in 1972 and 1973 were coached by McReavy Nolen and another legendary player, Mary Jo Peppler. USA Volleyball noted that the tournaments were overseen at that time by the Division of Girls’ and Women’s Sports of the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

USU Volleyball coaches Marilyn McReavy Nolen (left) and Mary Jo Peppler/Utah State Libraries

“My graduate school advisor was former USA men’s Olympic coach Dr. Jim Coleman,” said another volleyball icon, Ruth Nelson. “I was head women’s volleyball coach and head men’s tennis coach at George Williams College at the age of 21. During our history lessons, Jim always talked about Marilyn and Mary Jo and all they had developed for USA Women’s volleyball.

“After finishing my master’s degree, I was invited and made the 1972 USA national team.”

Nelson had the offer to move to Houston to join the EPU USVBA National Championship team as a setter.

“I was excited but had just taken a full-time position for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance as an executive to the president,” Nelson said. “I told him about the opportunity, and he immediately transferred me to the branch office in the USVBA Houston Region, so I was immediately eligible to play.

“This started my 50-plus-years friendship to a legend.”

McReavy never really left coaching, even working camps later in life. 

“She truly cared about the sport no matter the level,” Nelson said. “She was my teammate, colleague, mentor, role model, and much more a friend that was always positive and could find something productive out of any situation. And truly a competitor that always found a way to have FUN on the court while never accepting defeat!  We are all Blessed to have had her touch our lives in a very special way! RIP Marilyn.”

EPU national USVBA championship team

Penny Lucas-White is the volleyball coach at Alabama State University who played at LSU for Nelson, played for the national team, and has been head coach at Memphis and Air Force. 

“Marilyn was not only a colleague but a dear friend,” Lucas-White said. “She was the head coach at Saint Louis University when I was at the University of Memphis. We shared great times competing against each other as well as sharing great insights on how to become better at our craft. I love the fact that women’s sports would not be where we are today, if it wasn’t for the foresight and relentless work ethic of women like Marilyn.

“Two unique things about Marilyn and our relationship as friends.

1. She ran a right-side dominant offense while at Saint Louis because she had so many left-handed players. That was a very unique offense and was even tougher to defend. That should tell you how innovative and creative she was as a coach and person.

2. She and I both were pregnant with twins at the same time. I remember chatting on a phone call when I told her I was pregnant with twins, and she laughed to tell me she was also. She was destined to be a pioneer in many aspects of her life.  She successfully carried twins at 55 years old and carried them very well!!

“I will miss you my dear friend. Until we meet again, rest in peace.”

Lou Sara Galloway was McReavy’s 1968 Olympic teammate and they were lifelong friends.
“This is a bittersweet day for me,” Galloway said. “My friend Marilyn McReavy-Nolen is finally free from the pain and agony that she suffered for 14 months after being diagnosed with cancer … I know she is at peace.

“Marilyn was my friend and also a teammate during our 60-year friendship. She was one in a million, a truly unique and talented woman who loved volleyball and worked tirelessly throughout her coaching career to do her best with the young women that she coached. And her best was awesome.

“She was never boastful or arrogant about her myriad of accomplishments. Her mood was always upbeat, even throughout her battle with cancer. She endured so much pain but she never gave up hope. … I cherish the fact that she was a lifelong friend and wonderful teammate. I will miss her very much and keep her memory alive by remembering and relating all the wonderful aspects of her personality.  She was good and kind and deserves to be celebrated in the volleyball world for those attributes as well as her achievements as a coach. ”

Marilyn McReavy Nolen coaching at one of Ruth Nelson’s camps

At a USA Volleyball reunion in 2018, McReavy Nolen recounted what it was like being with the 1968 Olympic team.

“It was a wild time. The thing I remember is being able to eat in all the cafeterias. Every country had their own, so you could go around and eat all this different food. There was some concern we might get sick by eating different food. Early in the morning, I would go down to the track, which was way down below. I would just sit on the wall and watch these phenomenal human beings as they worked out in the morning on the track. It was an amazing thing. I can remember it like it was yesterday.

“I think the other thing was the fact that there were not that many women there. We had a hotel and there was a fence around it and we were guarded. I thought that was unusual.

“But also, going to downtown and hanging around. The traffic and the people. We traded everything. I brought my dad back this bright yellow jacket from France that I traded for. He wore it forever. I managed to get the West German warm-up stuff. Everybody was after it. All the different pins.”

From her obituary in the Roswell Daily Record:

In 1988 she married Rev. Randolph Nolen, at that time a Navy chaplain, to whom she remained married for 35 years until her death. They made their home in Roswell, New Mexico. They raised two outstanding sons, Travis Steven of Socorro, New Mexico, and Ryan David, of Austin, Texas.

In addition to her immediate family, she is survived by her sister, Jo Theriot (Tom) of Hico, Texas, sister-in-law Sharon McReavy of Hockley, Texas, nieces Laura McReavy Hearnsberger, and Holly Longenbach (Michael) and nephews Chris McReavy (Emily), Marcus Theriot (Alicia), and Matthew Theriot (Amber).

Saint Louis University photo/graphic


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