inducted February 18, 2006
When you think of basketball pioneers, James Naismith comes to mind. When you think of basketball pioneers on Morningside Heights, you must think of Ulana “Ula” Lysniak.
Ula entered Barnard College in 1983. In her first year, she played both volleyball and basketball, concentrating on basketball after that. In 1984-85, Ula’s sophomore season, Columbia went 19-7 playing an NCAA Division III schedule. The following year, the Lions were one of the nation’s dominant Division III teams, posting a 21-6 record with three tournament championships, including the New York State crown. They received what still is the program’s only NCAA bid.
Lysniak was the first Columbia woman to score 1,000 points in her career, finishing with a total of 1,447 points, which still stands as the Columbia record. She also pulled down 764 career rebounds, ranking her third on Columbia’s all-time list, and is tied for the single-game rebounding record with 22.
She started every game in her four years and was the leading scorer on that 1985-86 team. She then became the first Columbia women’s basketball player to play professionally when she accepted an offer from Union Basketball Club (UBBC) of Salzburg, Austria.
Lysniak thrived in Austria. She helped UBBC Salzburg to second place in the National Cup, leading the team in scoring, rebounding, shooting percentage, and blocked shots. She also played in Luxembourg, where she again was the pacesetter in scoring, rebounding, and shooting percentage for BC Mess, and Spain.
Her athletics career has included even more facets. In addition to her playing in Austria, she coached the Junioiren and Jugend Mannschaft teams to Austrian championships, and served as coach of the Salzburg International Preparatory School.
She nearly earned an Olympic medal when the Ukrainian National Olympic Women’s Basketball Team, for which she was an assistant coach, reached the bronze medal game of the 1996 Olympics before losing to Australia.
On the college level, Ula served as an assistant coach with Columbia, and was a two-time conference coach of the year at New York City’s John Jay College. Her teams won several conference championships, and her coaching produced two players of the year each in the City University and Hudson Valley Conference, as well as two CUNY rookies of the year.
She has been highly active as a competitor in athletics in the Metropolitan area, finishing 14 New York Marathons, competing on champion club basketball and soccer teams, and traveling to the USSSA Women’s “A” World Series of softball.
But few of her accomplishments can rival her memory of her junior season, 1985-86, with Columbia basketball.
“Our team was so together,” she recalled, “that we played as one. Whether we were ahead by five points or behind by 10, I felt calm and relaxed, because I knew we were going to win. And we did.
“That wonderful feeling of complete and total confidence pervaded my entire life that year, and will always stand out in my memory as being very special. Today, Ula Lysniak is Professor of Exercise Science and Physical Education at Brooklyn College while nearing completion of her doctorate at Teachers College. The Manhattan resident remains active in Columbia athletics as president of the Varsity C Club and chair of the Women’s Basketball Alumnae Advisory Committee.