Immaculata University Magazine - Spring 2011 - page 15

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heavily on Philadelphia and the legend of the
Mighty Macs.
“It was like Camelot,” say Grentz, the 1992
Olympic coach who now is at Illinois. “I often
go back to Immaculata to be around all those
memories. It was wonderful.”
Ironically, Immaculata itself has gone
quiet. After being catapulted to prominence, its
program eventually was shoved into the Divi-
sion III shadows. When Rush left at the end of
the 1977 season, she predicted that the demands
of Title IX and the heftier budgets of much
larger schools would doom Immaculata.
She was right.
Now it is the big state schools, the Con-
necticuts, Tennessees and North Carolinas that
dominate with their state-of-the-art facilities
and scholarship-laden teams. Wayland Baptist,
Delta State and Immaculata, the small colleges
that populated the game’s quaint early years, have
become nothing but curious historical footnotes.
“You see all these big schools spending all
this money on their women’s teams and it’s hard
to believe,” says Crawford, who today lives in
Havertown. “Our gym burned down in 1967
and we had to practice in the Motherhouse
across the street. When we went to the first
tournament, we had to sell toothbrushes to raise
enough money. And even then, only one coach
and eight of the girls could go. We flew standby,
stayed four in a room and washed our own
uniforms in the sink after every game.”
W
hy Philadelphia?
The Catholic League, with its
feed system of parochial school
teams, helped considerably. It
provided top-notch coaching and excellent
quality of play. An entire generation of early
stars such as June Olkowski and twins Mary
and Patty Coyle played in the league.
Very quickly this small university pro-
duced all sorts of intertwined connections.
Theresa Shank, for example, married Karl
Grentz, whose mother had coached Shank’s
Immaculata teammate Judy Marra Martelli at
St. Dorothy’s of Drexel Hill. Martelli met her
husband, St. Joseph’s men’s coach Phil Martelli,
at Rush’s summer camp. Through that camp,
Phil Martelli got his friend Geno Auriemma, who
worked with Jim Foster at Bishop McDevitt, an
assistant’s job at the University of Virginia.
They were like dandelions, popping up
everywhere, all somehow linked to a single
flower that bloomed briefly on the Immaculata
campus near Frazer. Soon the game caught on
in the Public League. In 1981, Dobbins’ Linda
Page became the first high school player to
score 100 points in a game. Within a decade,
Dawn Staley became one of the sport’s great
point guards.
“You can’t go anywhere without running
into coaches with a Philadelphia connection,”
said Auriemma, a Norristown native who has
won a national championship and built a pow-
erhouse program at Connecticut. “It’s amazing.
It’s such a small world.”
None of the players on Immaculata’s
championship teams came to the school of
550 students specifically for basketball. But
most shared a common background. Portland
and Martelli had played at nearby Villa Maria
Academy, and the rest of the Mighty Macs had
attended Catholic League schools.
“These girls came to college having
experienced the Catholic League, the crowds,
the pressure, all that,” Rush says. “It was a big
advantage.”
In fact, Rush often scheduled scrimmages
against Catholic League teams, knowing
she’d find better competition there than at
other local colleges.
THE TEAMS WER E
A CUR IOUS GROUP.
SOME WI TH GR EAT
TR ADI T IONS OTHERS
WI TH NONE .
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