Mighty Mac Attack Immaculata's storybook season making leap to the big screen Immaculata women's basketball going Hollywood

Posted: July 04, 2007

Darkness had fallen on Chester County near Malvern a week ago when about 150 women of various ages bustled around Villa Maria Hall near the rotunda in the main building of Immaculata University.

Known in the athletics world as the school where the Mighty Macs won the first three women's collegiate basketball national titles of the modern era - 1972-74 - the campus had been transformed into a pseudo Hollywood movie set over the last month.

The reason for all the activity was the filming of Our Lady of Victory, which focuses on former coach Cathy Rush and the way she led her team, then called Immaculata College, to that first title.

Tim Chambers, who grew up in Philadelphia, is directing the effort, which is targeted for release next spring during the week of the NCAA Women's Final Four.

Former 76ers president Pat Croce backed the film financially, and WIP-AM (610) radio personality Anthony Gargano wrote the script.

Some liberties have been taken with the facts in terms of how players are depicted and even the physical makeup of the campus.

A guard house, for example, at one of the roads to the complex is a prop created for a scene in which the team returns from a game.

Carla Gugino is portraying Rush, and Ellen Burstyn is playing the role of Mother Superior. David Boreanaz is playing Rush's then-husband, Ed Rush, an NBA referee at the time.

The real stars of the team made appearances in cameo roles. Marianne Stanley, now a Rutgers assistant women's basketball coach, last week shot a scene in which she was a passenger in a school bus.

As the filming concluded Monday night, a major scene was shot under the rotunda, during which the Macs return to a surprise pep rally.

The squad had just lost to West Chester after having beaten its nearby rival during the regular season, and thought it was done for the year.

But unknown to the players on the way home, the AIAW national tournament committee had factored in the regular-season win over West Chester and awarded the Macs a slot as the 15th seed in the 16-team field.

Thus, the nuns and student body welcomed the Macs back to the school with the rally to spur the team on to that first title.

Several real players of recent vintage, such as St. Joseph's assistant coach Sue Moran and Penn's Diana Caramanico, appear in the film as West Chester players.

"It's simply amazing," an emotional Cathy Rush said as she watched the shoot from an upper floor overlooking the action.

"I've been able to see all the monitors with all the camera angles during scenes like this, and it's really something on how authentic it all looks."

Chambers was meticulous enough that he even sought someone who knew how to run a mimeograph machine, the device that produced press releases long before computers.

"Ed and I were at West Chester, where they shot the scene for the championship game," Rush said. "And when the public address announcer brought the team onto the floor, Ed and I looked at each other, and we each had tears in our eyes. It felt like we were reliving it all over again."

Although a strong dose of fiction is sprinkled around the true story, the campus is about to experience the real return of one of Immaculata's stars of the era.

Theresa Grentz, who resigned as coach of Illinois after 12 seasons and was the Mighty Macs' center, is returning in a few weeks to work for Immaculata's president, Sister Patricia Fadden.

Grentz's career record is 671-311, which includes 19 seasons at Rutgers and two at St. Joseph's.

"There's a whole new growth out there right now," Grentz said. "When I started, I had a passion for coaching. And now I have a whole new passion for this, to teach and speak and do whatever they want me to do."

Immaculata has been co-ed for several years, a far cry from its former description as a small Catholic women's school.

"When I went back for the film shoot, everyone asked me a lot of questions," Grentz said. "They want to get everything right."

Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg

at 215-854-5725 or mgreenberg@phillynews.com.

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