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Immaculata _ the first women’s basketball dynasty
At the time Rush was disappointed by the school administration’s decision to not offer scholarships, but as she says, it was just the arrogance of her youth.
“I was 25 at the time and thought they were so wrong, but they were so right,” she said. “That sized college wasn’t going to continue to be successful against UCLA, Texas or whomever. Those schools were going to attract the better players. I didn’t see that.”
Rush could have made a move to a bigger program, and her coaching credentials remain unparalleled. She won an eye-popping 91 percent (149-15) of her games over her tenure at Immaculata, including coaching the first undefeated national champion in 1973.
Yet after she resigned in 1976 from the 500-student school, the Hall of Famer never coached again.
“I had a lot of offers, but my children were starting school and I wanted to spend time with them,” Rush said. “My original plan was to take a year off and then I’d go back the following year and go someplace else. It never did happen. I was really happy being a mom.”
She didn’t completely give up basketball, though, beginning a Future Stars camp that she still is involved in. Rush rattled off a Who’s Who of college coaches who have worked at her camp, including Auriemma.
“Immaculata was the founding fathers of what college basketball is today,” Auriemma said. “They were a team that was way ahead of their time. They left and then added to the game and that to me is an incredible legacy for them.”
Rush and Immaculata were trailblazers. The school was part of the first women’s game at Madison Square Garden. Now, the Maggie Dixon Classic is annually held there, drawing over 15,000 fans last season.
The Mighty Macs were also part of the first nationally televised game in 1975, playing Maryland. Now over 250 games are broadcast on the ESPN networks, including the last 16 national championship games.
Rush also was an innovator in marketing the game. After drawing over 4,000 fans for a Monday afternoon game, she thought about charging admission in order to raise money for the program.
“I think of colleges today that don’t draw 3,000-4,000 to their games,” she said. “If we could do it, they can do it.”
Immaculata has changed over the years, going coed in 2005 and seeing the enrollment grow. While they haven’t made the national tournament since the glory years, the Mighty Macs were on the verge last season of making the Division III NCAAs. They lost in the finals of the Colonial States Athletic Conference tournament.
“We were so disappointed last year because we were so close,” current Immaculata coach and athletic director Patricia Canterino said. “It would have been huge for us.”
Canterino also played for Immaculata from 1989-92 and makes sure that the current athletes are aware of the team’s storied past. It’s hard for them to miss it with the championship trophies and banners on display around the gym.
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