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Gallaudet star soared on both the basketball and volleyball courts

Gallaudet retired Ronda Jo (Miller) Donatucci’s basketball jersey in 2014 and plans to retire her volleyball jersey in October. Gallaudet University Photo

With the era of specialization underway, making participation in multiple college sports a challenge, Ronda Jo Miller didn’t just play two sports. She excelled in them.

Miller finished her playing career at Gallaudet as the all-time Division III leader in career rebounds (1,545) and third in career points (2,656) in basketball, as well as the all-time leader in any division in career kills in volleyball (3,579). Combined, her name appears in the NCAA volleyball and basketball record books more than 30 times for her exploits from 1996 to 2000 at Gallaudet, the only university in the world for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

For Miller, who grew up on a farm in Flensburg, Minnesota, Gallaudet was an opportunity to study and play alongside others in the deaf community.

“Growing up in a town of 225 people, I didn’t know there were other deaf people in the world, let alone an entire university,” Miller, now Ronda Jo Donatucci, says. “There is something powerful in accessibility and being able to communicate with everyone around you. Oftentimes that access is overlooked. It wasn’t that I wasn’t shocked and humbled by the schools and (recruiting) letters I was getting, but I always knew I wanted to go to Gallaudet.”

The 6-foot-2 Donatucci quickly made an impact at the Washington, D.C., school, being named the Capital Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year in volleyball in the same season and leading the Bison to the NCAA tournament. As soon as she stepped off the volleyball court, she averaged 16.5 rebounds per game for the 1996-97 basketball season, still fifth-best in Division III history for a freshman. She returned to the basketball court as a sophomore to lead the country in blocked shots (4.8 per game) and then led the country in scoring as a junior with 26.3 points per game during the 1998-99 season, more than 2 points less than the 28.7 per game she averaged the year before.

“Her family, especially her dad, a big and tall farmer, were not easy on her while playing pickup basketball games at their farm,” says former high school and college basketball teammate Nanette Virnig. “She also did a lot of physical jobs on the farm. R-Jo became a very strong player, invisibly, with skills from playing rough with her family, being a point guard when she was a bit shorter than I was, and a surprise growth spurt.”

“Ronda Jo was the smoothest player I’ve ever seen,” says Stacy Nowak, who played both basketball and volleyball at Gallaudet. “She made everything look easy. She included every player on the floor when on offense (in basketball), and never once during our years together did I ever think she was hogging the ball.”

Her team-first attitude helped the Bison reach their first NCAA tournament in basketball in 1997, and they returned to the tournament in 1999, netting two wins and a berth in the final 16. Donatucci also helped Gallaudet reach the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament in 1996 and 1999.

While recruiting interest in Donatucci was focused on basketball, her exploits on the volleyball court provided more impressive numbers. In addition to having the most kills of any player in any division in NCAA history, Donatucci also was the first player (of only two ever) to record more than 1,000 kills in a season with 1,038 during her senior year.

“I liked the balance that both offered,” Donatucci says. “The demands and rewards of each were very different. Strategy, competition, team chemistry and dynamics were different. I had a competitive spirit not only for winning games, but for self-improvement in both sports.”

“When people ask me which sport Ronda Jo was better at, I hesitate,” Nowak says. “She was a basketball star, no doubt about it, but she was so good at volleyball that it would be sacrilege to pick which sport she was better at.”

After earning her degree in psychology from Gallaudet, Donatucci was a final cut from the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. She went on to play professionally in Denmark and domestically in the National Women’s Basketball League.

She later earned her master’s in education from Minnesota. She lives with her wife, Anne Grace, and their two daughters in Faribault, Minnesota, where she is student life director at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf.

Volleyball Records

Career Kills — All Divisions
Player Years Sets Kills
Ronda Jo Miller, Gallaudet (III) 1996-99 583 3,579
Svetlana Vtyurina, George Washington (I) 1992-95 488 3,043
Christa Downey, Nazareth (III) 2000-02 406 2,984
Single-Season Kills (1981-2000) — Division III
Player Year Sets Kills
Ronda Jo Miller, Gallaudet 1999 146 1,038
Christa Downey, Nazareth 2000 138 936
Ronda Jo Miller, Gallaudet 1997 139 896
Ronda Jo Miller, Gallaudet 1998 137 865

Basketball Records

Career Points — Division III
Player Seasons G Fg 3Fg Ft Pts.
Jeannie Demers, Buena Vista 1984-87 105 1,386 399 3,171
Chelsie Schweers, Chris. Newport 2008-11 122 1,010 415 434 2,869
Meegan Garrity, Clark (MA) 1994-97 112 913 368 599 2,793
Ronda Jo Miller, Gallaudet 1997-2000 106 1,090 18 458 2,656
Career Rebounds — Division III
Player Seasons G Reb.
Jordan Holmes, Denison 2014-17 110 1,711
Ronda Jo Miller, Gallaudet 1997-2000 106 1,545
Heather Stewart, New Rochelle 1997-2000 92 1,540
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