Immaculata University Magazine - Spring 2011 - page 17

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Kyvallos and later Eckman, with the bless-
ing of West Chester athletic director Robert
Reese, began to urge the DGWS to institute
some sort of postseason basketball tournament
for the better women’s teams. They realized it
wouldn’t be an easy task.
Outside of the individual schools and their
opponents, who knew anything about these
teams? They got little fan support and even
less media coverage. And since women’s rules
wouldn’t become standardized until 1971, there
was no objective way to judge a team’s quality.
Schools in different states played with widely
varied guidelines. Some used men’s rules, some
a shot clock. Others played with three women
stationed on each side of half-court. Still others
employed a hybrid game where five offensive
players went against six defenders.
After years of lobbying, Eckman finally got
permission to plan the event in 1969.
The 16 teams that competed in the Nation-
al Invitational Collegiate Women’s Basketball
Tournament at West Chester that March were
a curious amalgam—small and large schools,
some with great men’s basketball traditions,
others with none. They were: West Chester,
Western Carolina, Iowa Wesleyan, Iowa, North-
eastern, Lynchburg, Southern Connecticut,
Ohio State, Purdue, Kentucky, Dayton, Ursinus,
Central Michigan, Ball State, Southern Illinois
and Towson State.
In the final game,
which according to
newspaper accounts
attracted about 2,000
fans to Hollinger Field-
house, West Chester
defeated Western
Carolina.
By 1972 Title IX
was law, the tiny Na-
tional Invitational was
history and the AIAW hosted its first national
tournament with a different collection of 16
teams, including Immaculata.
“We had no idea what a tournament like
that was,” Immaculata’s Crawford says. “It just
wasn’t something any of us had any experience
with. But Cathy was so competitive that we
knew she’d get us ready.”
Rush was hired by Immaculata one year
before the tournament at a salary of $450 per
year. Her 1971 team played 12 games against
driving-distance opponents. They won 10.
Urged by her husband to challenge the
women with more competitive foes, Rush up-
graded the schedule for the ’71-’72 season. The
team went 24-1 and in the insular world of Im-
maculata’s campus became a phenomenon. Rush
was a pioneer. She incorporated physical picks and
trapping defenses into her teaching, something
other women’s coaches were slow to accept.
“So many of the women’s coaches there
were older. They had been raised on the six-on-
six games, so naturally they were less likely to
incorporate anything new into their teaching,”
says Marra Martelli, a reserve on Rush’s cham-
pionship teams. “Cathy wasn’t afraid to use that
stuff. She wasn’t afraid to step over the line.
She’d have coaches like Jim Valvano [of North
Carolina State] and Herbie Magee [of what was
then Philadelphia Textile] come to her camps,
and she’d pick their brains.”
Immaculata’s only loss that season came,
not surprisingly, to West Chester’s 70-38 drub-
bing in the final of the regional qualifying por-
tion of the tournament.
Both were invited to the AIAW finals in
Normal, Ill., but Immaculata, seeded 15th out
of 16 teams, wasn’t sure it could make the trip.
The team eventually sold enough toothbrushes
to get a traveling party of nine to Normal.
In the finals, they met West Chester again.
“That was a team that might have beaten
us nine out of 10 times,” Crawford recalls. “But
like I said, there was something providential at
work. And we won [52-48].”
Rush’s club would win the AIAW crown
again in ’73 and ’74, and then lost in two
straight championship games to Delta State of
Louisiana. But by then the Macs had pushed
women’s basketball into the periphery of big-
time sports. In fact, the Mighty Macs’ 1975
game against Maryland was the first women’s
contest to be nationally televised. They played
Queens College at Madison Square Garden
and drew 11,969 fans. National publications
chronicled the curious story of this tiny college
with its noisy, prayerful fan base.
By 1977, when Immaculata was eliminated
by LSU in the national semifinals, Rush saw the
game’s future taking shape. The NCAA would
take over the tournament in 1982, ensuring
the big schools would be the best positioned to
recruit and spend money. Something special—
the innocence, the fun—would be sacrificed.
So Rush quit and, despite numerous offers to
return, has stayed away from coaching.
Now, wherever Rush or her players go,
they are asked about the Mighty Macs by those
who witnessed the phenomenon and those who
wished they had.
“It was crazy,” Rush says. “It was wonder-
ful. It will never happen again.”
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
from the Philadelphia Inquirer
(Sunday, March 26, 2000)
Copyright©2011
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
In fact, the Mighty Macs’ 1975 game against Maryland was
the first women’s contest to be nationally televised. They played
Queens College at Madison Square Garden and drew 11,969 fans.
National publications chronicled the curious story of this
tiny college with its noisy, prayerful fan base.
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