“GIVE IT A YEAR.”
That was the advice Patty Canterino’s ’92, ’12 M.A. parents gave as they sent their daughter off to college at Immaculata. Though she had been awarded a basketball scholarship and had been taught by the IHM Sisters since first grade, Canterino was reluctant to leave her family to live as a resident at a small, all-women’s school. “I wanted to stay at home and commute to a larger, coed university,” she said. “But my parents, who very rarely pushed us, insisted that I enter Immaculata, live on campus, and give it a chance.”
Not surprisingly, Canterino spent the first few weekends of her freshman year returning to the familiar comforts of home, but the transition period quickly came to an end. “I remember calling home one week and my brother answered the phone and he said to me, ‘I’ve got good new and bad news. The good news is Mom and Dad still love you. The bad news is…they’re not coming to get you.’ It was from then on that I made my very best friends. I’m still very close with some of my classmates. When you make friends here, they become friends for life.”
That transformative moment led Canterino to embark on a journey that would bring her back to the very school she so hesitantly entered as an undergrad. “By the time I left Immaculata,” she said, “I knew I wanted to return to coach here.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s in psychology and a minor in education, Canterino taught third grade at Most Blessed Sacrament School in the inner city and coached basketball in the afternoons at St. Maria Goretti High School in South Philly.
“I loved teaching and all of my jobs have been connected with the IHM Sisters. They have been a part of my life since I entered grade school. I had great parents who helped me become who I am today, who provided me with wonderful opportunities, who saw what was best for me when I couldn’t see it myself. But Immaculata and the Sisters gave me the confidence to do whatever I wanted to do. I wanted to give back in some small way.”
One year after Canterino left Immaculata, Canterino’s father passed away unexpectedly, and Canterino recalls with gratitude how the friends she made at IC supported her, her mother and her brothers through that extraordinarily difficult time. “My friends were there for me, for all of us,” she said. “They were at our house for months because they knew how hard it was.”
Canterino also stayed in close touch with Sister Catarin Conjar, IHM, who was vice president for Student Affairs at the time, regularly inquiring if there were any positions available. “Sister Catarin was a tremendous leader. She had this amazing gift of getting people to work together to
achieve a common goal. She motivated you to do the best you could do. So many of the Sisters had a profound influence on me, including Sister Marian William who was president of the College then.”
When an appropriate spot finally opened up, Sister Catarin called on Canterino, who became director of Student Life in 1998. Two years later, she was named athletic director and head women’s basketball coach, and her record speaks for itself. Canterino is entering her 14th season as Immaculata’s director of athletics and head women’s basketball coach, and she recently surpassed the record set by Naismith Hall of Fame legendary coach Cathy Rush for most career wins at Immaculata with the team’s first victory during the 2013-14 campaign.
Canterino, who was named the 2005-06 Pennsylvania Athletic Conference (PAC) Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year, led her squad to back-to-back postseason berths during 2005-06 and 2006-07, and returned to the postseason three years in a row 2009-2012. It marked the sixth time in a nine-year span that the Mighty Macs advanced to the postseason, making their first appearance in 2003-04.
During 2006-07, the Mighty Macs recorded an overall mark of 15-11 and placed third in the PAC South Division with a record of 10-6 in the second consecutive winning season for Immaculata, and several of Canterino’s players earned distinction that year.
During 2008-09, the third Immaculata player under Canterino reached the 1,000-point mark when Dominique Murray ’09 became the 17th IU player to reach the plateau.
The 2009-10 season marked a milestone in Canterino’s college coaching career with her 100th victory on January 18, 2010 with the Mighty Macs defeating Keystone College, 68-29. That season also marked a first for the Immaculata women’s basketball program as Chrissy Esbensen won the CSAC’s (Colonial States Athletic Conference) Rookie of the Year award, marking the first time that an IU player has received the conference’s top freshman honor.
Chelsea McTigue ’11, became the 18th player in IU’s women’s basketball history to collect 1,000 career points and was named a finalist for The Jostens Trophy in 2011, which recognizes outstanding basketball players who exemplify the Division III philosophy of the well-rounded student-athlete, recognized for athletic ability as well as excellence in academics and campus and community service. Canterino’s unwavering commitment to balancing athletics and academics is evidenced by her team’s academic accomplishments: The 2011-12 season marked the third-straight year that Immaculata’s women’s basketball team ranked among the WBCA’s Top 25 Team Honor Roll.
In the 2010-11 season, the most successful of her career so far, Canterino led her team to the CSAC championship game where The Mighty Macs finished as CSAC runner-up.
During the 2011-12 campaign, Canterino guided two more Immaculata players to reach the 1,000-point mark when Bridget Welz and Kelly Brown became the 19th and 20th players, respectively, in IU women’s basketball history to reach the standard.
Canterino also added two more players to her growing list of all-league players following the 2012-13 season with Esbensen capping her career with her third-consecutive Second Team All-CSAC selection, and Sara Smith receiving honorable mention honors from the conference. Esbensen also became the seventh Canterino-coached player to top the 1,000 point mark for her career just four games into the season.
“The students are my greatest joy,” said Canterino. “I love seeing them be successful on the court, in the classroom, out serving in the community. We’re not just about winning games. Last year, we had the highest GPA in the conference. We’re doing something right academically. And, statistically, most of the high achievers are student-athletes. These young adults manage so much—practice, classes, internships, clinicals, jobs. If they don’t go to class, we’re on them. If they’re having trouble in a subject, we find them a tutor. We don’t want our students to be successful for just four years—we want them to be successful for 40 years.”
Canterino knows from experience how challenging it is to balance the demands of work and school. She returned to the classroom herself at the urging of her mother and Sister Ann Heath, IHM, Ph.D., vice president for Academic Affairs, to earn a master’s in Organizational Leadership. “My mother was torturing me about getting my master’s,” said Canterino, “and Sister Ann Heath really encouraged me to follow through and earn my graduate degree. The IHM Sisters are such strong women and such a powerful influence in my life. I am so lucky to call Immaculata home.”
Canterino pointed out that the robust growth and development of athletics at Immaculata is the direct result of the University’s continuing support for the program, and she also commends her staff for making what she does as AD and head coach possible. “My parents used to say you have to get up in the morning and like what you do. Well, I love what I do. I love coming to work. We have such good people that I am privileged to work with every day. They put in long hours, and when people are leaving at 4:30, our day is just starting. I appreciate everything they do.”
Dedication. Discipline. Passion. Persistence. Courage. Integrity. Excellence. These are foundational Immaculata values, and they are the values Canterino and her staff model and strive to instill in their student-athletes. “For this age group, sports teaches them about who they are, about leadership, about being a team player. They have to learn to get along with people, to work cooperatively with others to reach a goal. Playing sports teaches life lessons, about the importance of committing to something and giving it your maximum effort. No matter what the final score is, you want to walk off the floor knowing you’ve done the best you can do.”
For, as Canterino—or any coach worth her salt—knows, life itself is a team sport.