BELLINGHAM, Wash. --- -
It has been 35 years since she last took the floor representing Western Washington University, yet Jo Metzger is still regarded as the finest women's basketball player in the school's illustrious history of that sport.
The 6-foot forward accomplished everything possible, and others nearly impossible, during her career as a Viking which ended March 14, 1981. Twice she was a finalist for the Wade Trophy, an award presented annually to the best women's basketball player in the nation. At that time, Western competed at the Division II level of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). All the other finalists represented Division I schools.
"She's one of those rare athletes, who come by once in a lifetime," said her coach Lynda Goodrich during Metzger's senior season. "She was a superstar ... Every team that we played tried to figure out a way to stop Metzger. None of them did."
Years later, Goodrich said, "You always have to be careful when you compare players of different eras, but if Jo played on today's teams, she would still be the best. She stood the test of time and you can't say that about a lot of players."
Metzger, who married following graduation from Western and goes by Metzger-Levin, was selected as a first-team All-America by the American Women's Sports Federation (AWSF) in 1980 and 1981 and the AIAW in 1980. She finished her four-year career holding 15 school records. Nine of them still stand. Among those are points in a season (630, 21.7) and career (1,990), and most consecutive games scoring 10 or more points (51).
A four-time all-league and all-region (AIAW Region 9) selection, Metzger-Levin was named Everett Herald Woman of the Year in 1979, Whatcom County Sports Personality of the Year in 1981 and WWU's Athlete of the Year for the 1980-81 school year. At the time, she was just the second woman to receive that honor since it became an annual award in 1954.
And the accolades continued. Metzger-Levin was inducted into the WWU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1990, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame in 1992, the only Viking athlete to achieve that, and the Snohomish County Hall of Fame in 2010. In 1999, she was recognized as WWU's Female Athlete of the Century for all sports.
In 2014, Metzger-Levin received the Larry "Go Vikings!" Taylor Alumni Service Award during the spring and was the first recipient of the Lynda Goodrich Legacy Award that fall.
Why Metzger-Levin chose Western
Metzger-Levin came to Western from Everett High School, 60 miles to the south, where she starred for the Seagulls, helping them to state tournament appearances all four years. As a senior, they placed fifth in the Class AAA-AA tournament as she scored a state tourney record 39 points in one game.
Her high school graduation came during a period when collegiate scholarships were just beginning to be offered to women athletes. And Western was fortunate that Metzger-Levin passed on offers from bigger schools and opted for the Vikings. It had been her dream since the eighth grade to teach and coach and Western had an excellent teacher education program.
Metzger-Levin also was familiar with Goodrich, who became a WWU legend as both a coach and administrator, through her high school coach and because she had attended Western's basketball camp the summer prior to her senior year at EHS.
"At the time we couldn't offer much in terms of financial incentives," said Goodrich. "Nowadays, we wouldn't have had a chance at getting someone with her talent coming out of high school."
While Metzger-Levin was a standout in every area of the game, it was her shooting form that people remember most.
"Of all her abilities, shooting was the most outstanding. She had a picture-perfect shot," said Goodrich. "If there had been a three-point shot back then, her records would not only have been incredible, but off the charts."
Chuck Randall, Western's men's basketball coach at the time and also a Hall of Famer, said, "Without exception, she was the purest shooter I've ever seen in my life. I used to watch the women play just to see her shoot."
Metzger-Levin was doing this with a basketball that measured the same size as the men's, not the smaller one that was used by the women beginning in 1984.
During her freshman season, Metzger-Levin made a school-record 12 straight shots in a game against Central Washington and was named to the regional all-tournament team.
Vikings' leading scorer all four seasons
Following that campaign, she earned a tryout with the U.S. Amateur Basketball Association all-star team and after her sophomore season received National Scouting Association All-America honorable mention. She averaged 16.5 points as a freshman and 16.4 as a sophomore.
Making those statistics and accomplishments more impressive was Western competing in the Division I ranks of a league that included Boise State, Montana, Montana State, Oregon, Oregon State, Portland State, Washington State and Washington. And the Vikings held their own, finishing third in the Coast Division of the Northwest Women's Basketball League both seasons.
The success of Metzger-Levin and Western against those schools may have been a factor in her being a Wade Trophy finalist as a junior and senior when the Vikings moved to the Division II ranks of the AIAW.
"That meant a lot to me," said Metzger-Levin. "Lynda went back with me to New York City where they had an unbelievable banquet with all these players from all these big schools. That holds a special place in my heart."
As a junior, Metzger-Levin averaged 18.1 points as the Vikings had a 15-game winning streak, were 12-0 in the Northwest Empire League and finished 24-3.
Only a 68-56 loss to Idaho kept Western from reaching the 12-team national tournament, despite being ranked 11th in the final AWSF national poll.
The Vikings came close again in Metzger-Levin's senior season, when she scored at a 21.7 clip, leading 23-6 Western in points for the fourth straight season, and also paced the team in rebounding at 9.9. WWU, which tied for 19th in the final AWSF national poll, placed second in the league and third at regionals.
"My biggest disappointment was that we never made it to nationals," said Metzger-Levin. "If you could get to nationals that was a big feat. But we seemed to be always one game short."
While that still bothers her, there is no bitterness or regrets.
"I was always pretty good at keeping things in perspective," she said. "We always wanted to win, but we knew if we did our best it was okay. There's more to life than basketball."
Personality also a Metzger-Levin asset
Metzger's outstanding talent was matched by a sparkling personality.
"A super person, just a really neat woman," Goodrich said in describing her. "She didn't have any ego problems, she was just Jo."
"She got along with everyone, worked hard and kept things loose. I've never seen her in a bad mood. She was just a joy to coach."
Unlike some standout players, Metzger-Levin never let the sport dominate her life.
"Basketball was very important to her, but it wasn't her whole life," Goodrich explained. "She had her priorities straight."
"She worked hard at the game whether it was in or off-season. It's just that she didn't miss out on the other things in life because of overdoing it. A lot of people miss some things because they overdue others. That wasn't the case with Jo."
Nice, but don't push it
Goodrich remembers having to ask Metzger-Levin to shoot more.
"She's an outstanding person, a true team player who put her teammates above herself," said Goodrich. "One of our battles, it wasn't really a battle, was that I wanted her to shoot more. But she wouldn't. She was just the most caring person. She wanted her teammates to be happy."
Though Metzger rarely showed emotion on the court, Goodrich recalled a moment when her star player did get upset.
"She got knocked down in a game with Washington State. So, she went and just ripped a defensive rebound, threw a great outlet pass, beat the ball down court, got the offensive rebound and went up through three players to score."
Life after Western
Today, married to her high school sweetheart, former Pacific Lutheran University basketball player Don Levin, the pair have raised two sons, Tyler and Bryce.
After graduating from Western with a bachelor's degree in physical education/secondary education, Metzger-Levin returned to Everett High and has served there as a teacher (physical education and leadership), coach (17 seasons) and administrator (4 years, Director of Athletics) for the last 35 years. She also is a get-it-done community activist and is currently working with the WWU Athletics Department and The WWU Foundation to build the Goodrich-Carmen Dolfo Endowment for Excellence in Women's Basketball.
With Metzger-Levin in the lineup, WWU, which ranks among the top 15 schools nationally (all divisions) in victories, posted a record of 79-30 (72.5 percent).
"I don't know if we will ever get an athlete like her here again," Goodrich concluded.
By Paul Madison who served 48 years as sports information director at WWU from 1966 to 2015
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