The Road to Normal: The Mighty Macs Celebrate 50th Anniversary of First Championship
“Move over, UCLA, Immaculata Also Flying No. 1 Flag.” That was the headline in the March 21, 1972, issue of the Philadelphia Daily News.
The New York Post stated that the Immaculata team was the real UCLA of the East.
George Heaslip’s story in the Daily Local News shaped the identity of the Immaculata women’s basketball team with the following 18 words: “One thing, for sure. They’re going to have to change that nickname. No more ‘Macs.’ How about “The Mighty Macs?”
The story of the 1972 Immaculata University’s women’s basketball season is embedded in the history of college sports: a small women’s college in suburban Philadelphia, whose gym burned to the ground years before and with no physical education department. The women wore wool tunics and drove themselves to games – and they excelled academically. When they arrived in Normal, Illinois for the first women’s national collegiate championship tournament, they defeated South Dakota State University (60-47), Indiana State University (49-46), Mississippi State School for Women (46-43), and finally regional rival West Chester University, 52-48. The Mighty Macs finished 24-1—making 70% of their free throws. Never mind that they had to sell toothbrushes to fund the trip and then, only eight of the 11 players could go—flying standby. The players crowded four to a room and washed their uniforms in hotel sinks.
The Mighty Macs won a second national championship in 1973, defeating Queens College and their third consecutive title in 1974, winning against Mississippi College 68-53. They continued their dominance, reaching the Final Four in the following three seasons, placing second in 1975 and 1976, and fourth in 1977.
The Immaculata Mighty Macs played a huge part in the evolution of women’s sports since the 1970s by winning games, setting performance records, garnering media attention usually reserved for men’s sports and becoming role models for young girls across the nation. Their contributions didn’t stop after college. Several players continued their love of the game by becoming high-profile professional and collegiate coaches—making their mark from the sidelines. Other players became doctors, teachers, philanthropists and businesswomen.
In recognition of their achievements, the Mighty Macs have received several individual and team accolades. In 2014, the Mighty Macs were enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and they were inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015, along with individual inductees (Cathy Rush, Theresa Grentz and Marianne Stanley). Their Cinderella story was made into a Hollywood movie, “The Mighty Macs,” released in 2011.
This year, on Friday, March 18, players from that first championship team and the two ensuing national championship teams, will be back on campus to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Coach Cathy Rush will also reunite with the players she coached to three national titles.
“To think that 11 young women and their equally young coach raised the profile and changed the perception of women’s sports is amazing. And that it happened at Immaculata University, which supported these students on the court and in the classroom, is beyond amazing,” states President Barbara Lettiere ’72. “I was a senior at Immaculata in 1972 and winning the championship that year is something I will never forget. Immaculata shocked the world of college sports, and the rest is history!”
- First National Women’s Collegiate Basketball Championship (March 19, 1972) – AIAW
- First to win three consecutive national titles (AIAW: 1972, 1973, 1974); placed 2nd in 1975 and 1976 and 4th in 1977
- First women’s team, with the University of Maryland, to appear on national TV (January of 1975)
- First women’s team, with Queens College, to play at Madison Square Garden (February of 1975)
- First women’s college team to play outside the country (Australia in 1974)
- First women’s collegiate double header played in Philadelphia Spectrum (January of 1978). The coaches from all four teams (Immaculata, Old Dominion, Rutgers, St. Joseph) were all Immaculata graduates
- The longest winning streak in the history of organized collegiate basketball for women ended at 35 vs. Queens College in 1974.
- Cathy Rush’s coaching record at Immaculata was 149-15 (.909)
- Inducted into the following hall of fames: Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, the Delaware County Sports Hall of Fame in addition to the induction of several individual players.