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Women’s college basketball wasn’t always dominated by big schools. First came the Mighty Macs.

The Immaculata College team won the first three national titles back in the 1970s.

© Immaculata University for AP/ Theresa Shank, Number 12, goes up for a shot in a 1975 game against Towson State. Shank played for the Mighty Macs of Immaculata College, a tiny women-only school in Pennsylvania. The team won the first three women’s college basketball national titles, beginning in 1972.

By Fred Bowen, The Washington Post

It’s time for March Madness — the NCAA college basketball tournaments.

Notice I said tournaments. Although the men’s games get most of the attention on television and in the news, there is also a women’s championship.

So in the interest of equal time and fair play, let’s take a look at the history of the women’s tournament. It’s an interesting one.

The NCAA women’s basketball tournament started in 1982 (the men’s tournament started in 1939). However, from 1972 to 1981, women’s college basketball teams played for the national championship in something called the AIAW Women’s Basketball Tournament. The AIAW was the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.

Women’s college basketball and the AIAW tournament were very different from today’s NCAA tournament with its big schools and big arenas packed with cheering crowds.

How different? Most colleges, including many of the big ones, did not have much in the way of women’s sports. The school that won the first three AIAW basketball championships was Immaculata College (now Immaculata University), a small school in Pennsylvania, which at the time had about 500 students, all women.

© AP/ Immaculata Coach Cathy Rush led the Mighty Macs to three national titles.

The Mighty Macs, as they were called, also looked different from today’s teams. The women wore old-fashioned uniforms that included skirts, high white socks and Converse basketball shoes.

Another thing that was different about the Immaculata College team: Its head coach, Cathy Rush, was paid $450 a season to coach the team. Now some women’s college basketball coaches make more than $1 million a year.

But the Mighty Macs could play. Led by high-scoring center Theresa Shank, Immaculata beat West Chester State, 52-48, in the 1972 final. By the way, the championship game was not played in a big city. It was played in Normal, Illinois, a small town.

The Mighty Macs won two more titles, beating Queens College and Mississippi College (not the University of Mississippi) in 1973 and 1974. Immaculata made it to the finals the following two years but lost to Delta State University each time.

Soon, larger schools began to develop their women’s basketball teams. Coach Rush retired, and Immaculata dropped to Division III, where it did not give out athletic scholarships and played smaller schools such as Marymount University and Wesley College.

Now big universities dominate the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. The University of Tennessee, led by legendary Coach Pat Summitt, won eight championships from 1987 to 2008. The University of Connecticut Huskies won 11 titles from 1995 to 2016 and might win another this year.

© Immaculata University/AP/ The 1972 national champion Mighty Macs return to Immaculata College after the tournament. Shown in front from left are player Theresa Shank, college President Sister Mary of Lourdes, coach Cathy Rush and player Janet Ruch.

But Tennessee and Connecticut are the only schools that can say they have won more national titles in women’s basketball than Immaculata.




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Kids Magazine: Women’s college basketball wasn’t always dominated by big schools. First came the Mighty Macs.
Women’s college basketball wasn’t always dominated by big schools. First came the Mighty Macs.
The Immaculata College team won the first three national titles back in the 1970s.
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