Penn Athletics will be inducting its Hall of Fame Class VIII this Saturday, May 5 at the Inn at Penn. As we prepare for the upcoming ceremony, we will be introducing each inductee over the next several days. Click here to find the original release on all the inductees, from February 22.
A pioneer for many of today's female student-athletes at Penn, Debra Censits Donnally NU'81, GNu '83 was an integral part in defining the determination and passion that are hallmarks of Quakers.
A dual-sport athlete in field hockey and women's lacrosse, she earned eight varsity letters from 1977-1981, contributing mightily in all four of her years at Penn.
In field hockey, Censits was a four-year starter for legendary head coach Anne Sage, anchoring the team to two postseason appearances in the fall of 1978 and 1980. Her senior season saw the Quakers post their first 10-win season, compiling a 10-4-1 record, which included a convincing 5-1 win over four-time national champion West Chester. The defense, led by Censits, was the hallmark of field hockey's berth in the Eastern Regional Tournament of the Division I AIAW Championship -- the predecessor to the NCAA Championship -- allowing just 16 goals in 15 games. At the end of that 1980 season, field hockey achieved a national ranking of No. 16 and Censits earned her second consecutive first-team All-Ivy selection.
Not content to deny opponents on the field hockey turf, Censits was just as determined to keep opposing teams at bay on the lacrosse field. After playing attack her freshman year -- where she once scored five goals in a single game -- Censits moved to defense for her final three seasons and dominated at that position. A second-team All-Ivy selection in 1980 and 1981, Censits helped the Red and Blue to a 12-3-2 record in 1980, which set a mark for wins in a single season that stood until 2007. The Quakers were 4-0-2 in the Ivy League in 1980, claiming the program's first Ivy title and first postseason appearance. The trip to the AIAW National Tournament was a successful one for Censits and the Quakers, as they advanced to the Final Four and ultimately finished No. 3 in the nation. Buoying the team the entire season was the Censits-led defense, which allowed an average of just 3.59 goals-per-game. That is still the program's best defensive season to date.
Just as impressive as her work on the playing field was Censits' pioneering efforts in the Nursing program at the University. Working with then-Dean Claire Fagin, Censits designed a change in the clinical program, setting up nighttime clinicals which allowed her to play midweek games her junior year -- something which had not been done before. Moving her nine-hour clinical to the evening put her time at a premium, but it allowed Censits to become the first-ever Nursing student to compete in four years of varsity athletics in either field hockey or women's lacrosse (or, in her case, both). Since then, hundreds of other student-athletes have followed those footsteps, playing a sport at Penn while getting a Nursing degree.
Censits Donnally statement
"I feel very blessed to have been a part of Penn's field hockey and lacrosse programs in the late 1970s. It was a foundational experience for me. This time period represented great change for many women athletes. We weren't the original pioneers that had to fight for fields and uniforms, but instead we embraced the opportunity during this transformational time to be the athletes that we were and play a sport that we loved. Change was so rampant during my tenure that new lines on the lacrosse field reflecting new rules were added yearly, sticks were redesigned in both sports, and the Ivy League officially included women's athletics. This was a powerful and fun time to play Penn field hockey and lacrosse! Not the least of it was the thrill of playing a night game on the breathtaking Franklin Field under the lights. I am so thankful to have parents who raised me to believe in myself and never give up, and to have brothers who have always been a grounding source of support. I am forever grateful to my coaches, Anne Sage and Val Cloud, who brought passion for the sports to the field every day, and for my inspirational teammates for such a life-affirming experience and many great laughs. I am especially grateful to Claire Fagin who, as Dean of the School of Nursing, supported my opportunity to play on a team and let me push it a little further to play on two teams. At the time, no Nursing student had ever attempted to fit an intercollegiate game schedule into an academic requirement of two full days in the hospital and five classes. It was fortunate for me I had a forward-thinking Dean who recognized the important role that athletics contributes to college life and personal growth. Because of my wonderful experience at Penn, I have continued to share my life with the Penn family. I serve with dedicated women on the Field Hockey Alumnae Board, do ad hoc committee work for the School of Nursing and Alumni Relations, and Chair the Secondary School Committee in my region for Penn Admissions. I met my amazing husband, Andy, at Penn and we have three boys. Two of my sons, Matt and Tim, attended and recently graduated from Penn with their own memorable experiences; my youngest son, Conor, is a freshman at the University of Connecticut and is just beginning his college adventure. Finally, I am beyond grateful to the Hall of Fame Committee for this honor that means so much to me. I am humbled to be able to join my Dad, the members of the eighth class, and all the athletes previously selected in this very prestigious Penn Athletics Hall of Fame."