Cathy Inglese's Relentless Drive as a Coach Made Her Unforgettable

Longtime Boston College women's coach Cathy Inglese, who died this week at age 60, left a lasting impact on the game of basketball and those closest to her.
By Justin Barrasso ,

For someone so meticulous and precise, it is especially cruel that one wrong step cost Cathy Inglese her life.

Inglese, the longtime women’s basketball coach who posted back-to-back undefeated regular seasons at the University of Vermont and later redefined the standard of excellence for the women’s program at Boston College, suffered a traumatic brain injury when she fell down a stairway last week. Surrounded by loved ones, she passed away on Wednesday at the age of 60.

The praise and warm memories of Inglese over the past 48 hours has made her sudden death even more painful for those who knew, respected and admired her.

Inglese had multiple stops throughout her coaching career, but she stands alone as the greatest coach in the history of Boston College. During a 15-year run as head coach, her teams at BC made the NCAA tournament seven different times, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen on three different occasions.

Watching Inglese roam the sidelines was a sight to behold. She coached with an uncommon prowess and tenacity, and her desire to compete at the highest level never wavered. She treated preseason scrimmages with the same fiery passion that she did showdowns with old Big East conference foes like UConn, Notre Dame and Villanova. This was not always endearing to her players, but Inglese refused to ever lower her standards for the team.

Becky Gottstein Holden played for Inglese, and she was an integral part of the first four Inglese teams to make the NCAA tournament at BC.

“Coach Inglese believed in perfect practice and perfect preparation,” said Holden. “She prepared for an exhibition game the same way she prepared for the No. 1 ranked team in the country. She loved competition and thrived on working hard and preparing, and then revisiting your plan to try to find those holes.

“I’ve taken those lessons into my personal and professional life. It’s important to learn and really enjoy working hard, and I don’t think anyone enjoyed working hard more than Coach. There is a lot of pride to be had when you know that you left everything you had on the court, and that’s a life lesson we learned from her.”

Beyond basketball, Holden expressed that Inglese was an advocate for her players long after they finished their collegiate career.

“My family met Coach Inglese when I was 16, and I was grateful to have a friendship that lasted long after my graduation,” said Holden. “She was a part of so many life moments for her players, including my wedding, and she will be missed by so many.”

The most memorable stretch in Inglese's entire career happened during the 2004 Big East tournament. BC won four games in four consecutive days, knocking out eventual national champion UConn in the semifinals. Inglese’s crowning moment took place in a near-empty Hartford Civic Center, with all of the UConn fandom having already departed, as her team steamrolled Rutgers to win the school’s first-ever Big East championship.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma reflected back on the qualities that made Inglese such a dynamic coach.

​“It wasn’t a job to Cathy, it was a lifestyle,” said Auriemma. “No one was more passionate and more dedicated to being a coach. She lived it, every day. Obviously we in the coaching community were shocked when we heard the news of Cathy’s accident. My thoughts went to all the years we competed against each other, how difficult it was to play Boston College. We are going to miss her.”

Bill Gould was an assistant on Inglese’s staff for eight seasons at Boston College. Now the head coach at Emerson College, Gould was part of the staff when the Eagles won the Big East.

“Those four games personified what Cathy was all about,” said Gould. “We did everything right on those four days, and that’s because we did everything right throughout the season. We weren’t better than UConn, but Cathy instilled a mentality in her players to be ready for every situation—and we were better that day.

“Those four games were the microcosm of her entire career. We were ready and prepared to win any time we played a game. That was the genius of Cathy.”

She also had a direct impact me.

Hired as a student manager during my freshman year in the fall of 2001, I immediately became enamored with the program, its staff, and the way Inglese taught the game of basketball.

In our initial meeting, Inglese asked me how much familiarity I had with women’s basketball. I was honest: I had none. She smiled, then promised me that when I was finished at BC, I would genuinely love women’s basketball. Since graduating in 2005, there hasn’t been a season when I was not coaching youth girls hoops—and enjoying every moment of it.

The life of a student manager is by no means glamorous but, if you love basketball, there are few ways better to fully immerse in the game. And I had the opportunity to appreciate basketball on an entirely different level.

I learned Inglese’s offensive and defensive philosophies—and I still have the Rick Pitino VHS tape she gave me to study the intricacies of man-to-man defense. I was able to see how she prepared for a practice and an opponent, and I watched every single day as she demanded her players be better today than they were yesterday.

I also was treated to a side of Inglese that her players didn’t necessarily see. This often happened late at night on road trips after I had just completed a task like typing a scouting report or editing game film. Inglese would thank me for my hard work and continually remind me of my immense value to the program. For a 20-year-old with basketball dreams, those words meant a lot. She was genuine in her praise, and those moments helped shape my future as a youth basketball coach, which has remained a passion of mine for the past 14 years.

Inglese was about to start the upcoming season as the associate head coach at Hofstra University. For reasons beyond my comprehension, she will not be granted that opportunity. There will be no more late-night basketball sessions, no more opportunities to connect with her former players and no second act as a head coach. There is also no silver lining, as her death is a loss for her family, friends and the game of basketball.

Inglese leaves behind legions of players, coaches and staff she positively impacted throughout a career that spanned more than three decades.

And with her passing, the game of basketball loses a piece of its smile.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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