Immaculata University: The Birthplace of Modern College Women’s Basketball.
By Randall S. Shantz (Originally published in 1997)
Nothing about Immaculata College basketball was normal after Normal.
That’s Normal, in Illinois, home of Illinois State University, site of the 1972 national basketball championships.
The story of the precocious Macs (not yet anointed with the “mighty” designation that would soon become part of their nickname forever) and their implausible run to the first of three consecutive national championships needs not be retold here in detail because, as monstrous as that title was, it became but a small part of the school’s bequest to women’s college basketball.
The basic facts are:
- Immaculata entered the tournament as the second-place team from the east behind West Chester State after losing to the Golden Rams 70-38 in the regional final.
- The Macs opened championship play with a 60-47 victory over South Dakota State, survived a second-round scare to defeat Indiana State 49-47, and then held off defending national titlist Mississippi State College for Women, the top seed in the 16-team field, 46-43.
- In the championship game against old nemesis West Chester (which had sent its third team to play the Macs during the regular season), Immaculata rose to the occasion and avenged the 32-point regional loss a week earlier with a 52-48 victory.
(Randall S. Shantz covered Immaculata basketball for the Daily Local News in West Chester and, like the Macs, made friends everywhere the team went, particularly in Cleveland, Mississippi.)
The Coach: Cathy Rush
Coach Cathy Rush was the head women’s basketball coach at Immaculata from 1970-1977. She led Immaculata to three consecutive AIAW national titles from 1972-1974. Overall, she guided the Mighty Macs to 6 consecutive final four appearances in her seven seasons with the college, attaining a 149-15 record.
Rush was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on April 7, 2008. She was inducted into the women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
On Sunday, March 19, 1972, 11 remarkable young women and their coach from immaculata college achieved the impossible, winning the first-ever national women’s college basketball championship, and against all odds, capturing the title again in 1973 and 1974. The legendary Mighty Macs demonstrated a dominance rarely seen in any sport, either women’s or men’s, becoming true heroes of intercollegiate athletics. In 2014, the Mighty Macs were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Immaculata College vs. West Chester
Immaculata College vs. Queens College
Immaculata College vs. Mississippi College
The Mighty Macs honor role includes Head Coach Cathy Rush and players Janet Ruch Boltz, Denise Conway Crawford, Janet Young Eline, Theresa Shank Grentz, Nancy Johnston, Barbara Deuble Kelly, Tina Krah, Patricia Mulhern Loughran, Judy Marra Martelli, Maureen Mooney, Sue Forsyth O’Grady, Patricia Opila, Rene Muth Portland, Betty Ann Hoffman Quinn, Mary Scharff, Marianne Crawford Stanley, Maureen Stuhlman and Marie Liguori Williams.
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