Immaculata University Magazine - Spring 2011 - page 39

WWW. Y E A R O F T H E M I G H T Y MA C S . C OM
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saw us coming. They were the big jocks, and they called to us, “Hey,
Immaculata! Did you bring your gas cans in case you run out of gas? Hah!
Hah! Hah!” I was so ticked.
Before the first game of the National Tournament, all 16 teams involved
marched onto the court. We formed a giant No. 1 at center court to indicate
that this was the first National Tournament sponsored by the recently
established Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. It didn’t
take us long to notice that the other teams were all wearing cool sweat
suits. This was when sweat suits had just started to become fashionable.
We showed up in our standard-issue wool tunics and corduroy jackets.
We were by far the smallest school in the bracket and the only Catholic
college. The other schools brought with them assistant coaches, trainers,
managers, and sports informationdirectors. For Immaculata, it was just Cathy
and the eight of us. But it was enough. (To make the IC team seem larger, and
therefore, more threatening than it actually was, we draped our jackets on the
five empty seats, supposedly reserved for the remainder of the team!)
We made a great story. But after we won our first two games, it appeared
that our story, no matter how interesting, might be ending sooner than
planned. In the third game, we playedMississippi State College forWomen,
the top seed in the tournament, and we were down 14 points at halftime.
Cathy came into the locker room and sounded ready to concede. “Look,”
she said, “we’ve had a great run. You girls have played like real champions.
No one can fault you.”
But we weren’t ready to go home. “Hey,” Maureen Stuhlman argued, “we
need only seven baskets.” ThenMaureenMooney got hot. She made 22 points,
and we wound up winning, 46-43. That set up amatch for the next day against
West Chester for the national championship.
We were amused at the realization that, although at the very outset of the
tournament, the West Chester pep band had been cheering for Immaculata,
their tune quickly changed now that they were going to meet us on the court.
We hadnoband andonly five Immaculata studentswhohaddriven12 hours to
cheer us on. They had to find a way tomake themselves heard at the upcoming
game. Their creative solution was to track down a big wash tub on a nearby
farm. They removed the dowels from the hangers in the hotel clothes closet to
use as drum sticks. Our cheering section was now ready.
West Chester was a dominant force in women’s athletics in the country at that
time. Cathy had gone to school and played basketball there, and she admired their
excellent program. “You know, Theresa,” she had said to me on one occasion, “if
you had gone toWest Chester, you probably wouldn’t havemade the first team. In
fact, you might not even have made the second team.” “You know, Mrs. Rush,” I
countered, “that’s great, but I’m not at West Chester. I’m at Immaculata. There’s
onlyoneteamhere,andI’monit.”Yearslater,IrealizedthatthiswasCathy’swayof
making sure I stayedmotivatedand focused.
But that “one team” from Immaculata seemed to be off to a surprisingly
good start at this National Tournament. After a three-point win over Indiana
University in the first round, Cathy phoned Edwith the news. “Can you believe
it? We’re in the Final Eight,” she told him. “That’s great,” he said. “Now, don’t
be disappointed if you lose.” The same conversation occurred after our next
two victories.
Whenshephonedhimwiththenewsthatwehadmadeittothechampionship
game, he asked, rather nervously, who our opponent would be. When Cathy
answered, “West Chester,” Ed’s
ifs
of his previous warnings turned to
when
:
“Now don’t be disappointed when you lose.”
But we honestly never thought we were going to lose, and we honestly never
thought we were going to win. We just knew we were going to play as hard as
we possibly could.
And we did play hard that day. Cathy made one line-up change, putting
Rene Muth, a good shooter and a solid offensive rebounder, in the starting
line-up as forward in place of Janet Ruch, who was only 5’1”, to give us more
size up front. Cathy moved Denise from shooting guard to point guard. It was
the first time Denise had never played that position, and I remember telling
her that Maureen Mooney and I would help her out if she got into trouble with
the Golden Rams’ press. We knew we couldn’t run with West Chester, but we
jumped off to a 12-2 lead, and controlled the tempo of the entire game.
Throughout the game, the teamgave an almost-perfect performance.When
the final buzzer signaled the end of playing time, proclaiming Immaculata the
1972 National Champions (52-48), the news shockedWest Chester, the nation,
and us. We weren’t even sure just what the victors were supposed to do, so we
didn’t storm the court or cut down the nets.We just stood there, looking rather
puzzled at one another. At that moment, we had no idea of exactly what had
happened. We were too naïve to turn around to see the amazed expressions
of the tournament organizers. We weren’t sure whether or not it was proper to
cheer for ourselves! I do remember that it was a beautiful spring day, and we
didn’t need coats when we went outside to look for a pay phone, so we could
informour families of the astounding news.
Cathy had been calling the school every day to give them updates on our
progress. The day we played the title game, there was a large conference at the
college. SisterMary of Lourdeswas giving a presentation in a 1,100-seat theatre
next to the gym. There was a Sister stationed at the rear of the room whose
“special assignment” was to take the call expected fromCathy.
Sister Mary of Lourdes was at the podium, doing her thing, when the
phone rang. The smile on the face of the Sister who answered the telephone
was enough to tell all who had turned to look at her that the message was
good news. She gave Sister Mary of Lourdes a thumbs-up. She stopped the
presentation, and with a wide grin, announced to the assembly, “Ladies
and gentlemen, I am proud to inform you that Immaculata College has just
won the AIAW National Basketball Championship.” The entire place went
wild. Sister Marian William later told me that they never did finish the
conference. Instead, they celebrated the amazing and unexpected victory
of what was later to be known as the “powerhouse of women’s basketball.”
The news spread fast locally. We had been covered on a regular basis
by the
West Chester Daily Local
. Our nickname was “The Macs.” After
the championship game, George Heaslip, a columnist for that paper,
immediately began referring to us as “The Mighty Macs,” and that name
has clung to us ever since.
I have to laugh when I see Connecticut dominating the women’s game and
rolling up 89 consecutive victories. Back then, many of the big-time coaches
in the sport came from the Midwest and the South. They didn’t believe there
were any good coaches, or players, from the East. When we won that game at
Normal, Illinois, it came as a shock to their systems. It was obvious that they
were furious. They apparently figured that their teams would dominate this
tournament. Now here comes this little Catholic school, with the pretty young
blonde, think-out-of-the-box coach. Cathy was just not of their caliber. We had
messed up their whole system.
Following the National Championship awards ceremony in Illinois, we
immediately packed up and drove two hours to O’Hare for what we thought
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