Immaculata women's basketball fame grows with Hall of Fame

Former Immaculata University basketball players from the Mighty Macs' championship teams of 1972, '73, '74 (from left): Denise Conway Crawford, Sue Forsyth O'Grady, and Betty Ann Hoffman.
Former Immaculata University basketball players from the Mighty Macs' championship teams of 1972, '73, '74 (from left): Denise Conway Crawford, Sue Forsyth O'Grady, and Betty Ann Hoffman. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 09, 2014

On its picturesque campus on King Road between Malvern and Exton in Chester County, Immaculata University features 19 sports programs.

But it's the women's basketball team that for many defines this Catholic school of about 2,500 undergraduates.

"We're still celebrating what the women's basketball team did for women's sports," Marie Moughan, university spokeswoman, said, referring to the school's national championship teams of 1972, '73, and '74.

"Immaculata was at the beginning of women's basketball the way it is today."

On Monday, the Mighty Macs became even more well known when that women's basketball program was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Known to many in the region and throughout the athletic world as the "birthplace of modern college women's basketball," Immaculata, a women's college until 2005, was so surprisingly successful - the three teams lost only two of 60 games - that its three-peat was dramatized in a 2011 Sony Pictures film called The Mighty Macs.

"Women's sports just didn't get recognition until the Mighty Macs made their presence known," Moughan said.

Immaculata, which needed 18 of 24 votes from the honors committee for election to the hall, is scheduled to be enshrined in August in Springfield, Mass., along with a group of former players and coaches.

On Friday, as news of the impending election to the hall was leaking out, the atmosphere on campus buzzed.

Sophomore Gabriela Macera, 20, and junior Joe Davis, 22, were playing one-on-one in a small gym just feet from the three glittering crystal trophies from the national championship wins.

When Macera met up with some middle-school players the other day at a gym in West Chester, she said, she saw how pervasive the area's respect for the women's team was.

"They were like, 'You go to Immaculata? Your women's team is amazing,' " Macera said. "I was like, 'How do you even know that?' I guess a lot of people know about us."

Davis, of Harrisburg, said he thought the women's team was already in the Hall of Fame.

"They really did have a lot of good seasons," he said. "They definitely helped pave the way for women's sports."

Said Macera, "They're a great team. I think they deserve it."

Macera and Davis, both of whom play intramural basketball, go to the women's and men's basketball games. But, they said, they prefer watching the women.

"They're more entertaining," Macera said. The team could be trailing with five minutes left, she said, and "come out of nowhere" to win the game.

Cathy Rush, a young coach at the time of the Macs' title run, led the team from 1970-77, took them to the Final Four six times, and ended with a record of 149-15. She was inducted into Hall of Fame in 2008.

Immaculata also has the distinction of playing against the University of Maryland in the first women's game to be shown on national TV. The Macs played Queens College in the first women's game at Madison Square Garden and was the first women's college team to play outside the United States when it visited Australia in 1974.

"And of course," Moughan said, "now with the team being inducted into the Hall of Fame, we'll be talked about hopefully for years to come."


mbond@philly.com

610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond

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