When Margaret Wade was captain of the women's team at Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss, during the 1931-32 season her team had six players. Three were offensive forwards and three were defensive guards, with the players at each position confined to their half of the court. A game consisted of seven-minute quarters and dribbling was limited to two bounces. Even so, the school administrators abolished the sport the next season because they thought it too strenuous for young women.
Last week Delta State, back on its game after a 40-year layoff and finishing its second season of the new era with a 28-0 record, became the national champion of women's collegiate basketball by winning the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women tournament at Madison College in Harrisonburg, Va.
Margaret Wade was coach this time, and the game involved five-woman teams playing 20-minute halves on a full court. Her Ladies (a derivative of the nickname Lady Statesmen) were led by 6'3" Center Lucy Harris, the tournament's high scorer, and 4'11" freshman Debbie Brock, a bedeviling mosquito of a ball handler. With poise and terrific shooting—52.6% from the floor and 75.6% from the foul line—Delta State swept four games, including a 90-81 victory over Immaculata-the-Invincible in the finals. And the Ladies did it with a casual confidence that indicated that was how they had planned it all along.
Cornelia Ward, a freshman forward who sank 23 of 43 field-goal attempts in the tournament and hit 89.5% from the free-throw line, was asked whether Delta was looking forward to meeting Immaculata. "Yes, sir," drawled Ward, 5'7", pig-tailed and deadpan. "Cuz they're defendin' champs and we wanna knock 'em off. We take one at a time, but if they come our way, we step on 'em."
March 30, 1975
The press chuckled indulgently at that one. Good copy, these Mississippi players, but nobody talks about the Mighty Macs that way and gets away with it. Before the second round of the 16-team tournament Wayland Baptist of Plain-view, Texas, the one team that was supposed to have a good shot at Immaculata because Wayland had the best "big man" in the country in 6'2" senior Carolyn Bush, riled the Macs with some loose talk and wound up in the consolation flight for the second year in a row.
"They called us ugly," said Rene Muth, Immaculata's only starting senior and veteran of all three of the school's championship teams. "Nothing like that to make you play like an animal." Bush put in 24 points against the Macs, but high-scoring Brenda Moeller got off only one shot in the first half and finished with just six points. Immaculata, with no starter over 5'11", won 68-58.
"They had no trouble with our press," said Dean Weese, the Wayland coach, "and that bothered our players because we've been so successful with it all season. The Crawford girl did a tremendous job." The Crawford girl is Marianne, Immaculata's All-America guard, who hounded Wayland with numerous steals and 11 points. With a minute to go and Bush on the bench with five fouls, the Macs' fans were singing Que Ser√†, Ser√†.
Customarily, Immaculata fans stop singing only to shout. They are a fanatically loyal and excruciatingly noisy bunch of students, nuns, parents, siblings and Philadelphia-area hangers-on and are backed by a seven-piece pep band, eight pomponed cheerleaders and approximately three, dozen metal wash buckets provided by Muth's father, the owner of a chain of hardware stores.
The Immaculata buckets and the fans who bang them came under attack from persons unnamed (certain disgruntled coaches, it was assumed) the afternoon of the semifinal round. In the absurd hours that ensued, both the buckets and the band were banned from the gym, along with all other noisemakers and musical instruments. That would have been fair enough, except that no other team had any. Following at least two official meetings, one press conference, a couple of temper tantrums and a rumor that two Immaculata fathers had contacted a lawyer about getting an injunction, the ban was finally lifted on the condition that the band play only during breaks in the action. The semifinal game against California State-Fullerton began as scheduled, with the infernal buckets stilled.
Fullerton was the tournament's dark horse, an unknown quantity out of the West. To reach the semis the Titans had upset William Penn of Iowa and Queens College of New York. As a result the crowd in Godwin Hall was buzzing with anticipation as Fullerton went up against Immaculata. Not only did another upset seem possible, but here was an opportunity to check out Nancy Dunkle, the 6'2" sophomore sensation from California, against strong competition.
Unfortunately for would-be Dunkle raters, the refereeing was extremely tight. The game began with three whistles in the first minute, and by halftime each team had two players in foul trouble. One of them was Dunkle. After scoring 14 points in the first period she spent most of the rest of the game on the bench with four fouls and a towel to mop up her tears of frustration.
"The official wouldn't let us play," said Immaculata Coach Cathy Rush after the Macs had won 63-54. "Everybody in the building would have liked to see Dunkle play 40 minutes—except maybe me. When it came right down to it, it was whose bench was better. We had five freshmen on the floor at one time, and we weren't doing that bad."
Fullerton, a low-tuition state school with 18,600 students located in one of Los Angeles' unending suburbs, is a typical example of the booming interest in women's basketball. Until last year the basketball players sold candy and T shirts and washed cars to raise money because the school's contribution to their program was too small to cover expenses. Fullerton's teams have qualified for the nationals five of the last six years, and the quality of their performances has kept pace with the improvement in women's play. And the team's success has begun to draw crowds. Whenever archrival UCLA and its star Ann Meyers travel to Fullerton, the games are SRO. This year the school picked up a greater portion of the team's expenses, and next season the women probably will be allowed to charge admission to their games for the first time.
Coach Billie Jean Moore, who played several seasons of AAU softball with the Topeka Boosters and earned her master's in Phys. Ed. at Southern Illinois, says, "We haven't done any recruiting so far. In the past we haven't had to. But the time has come now that if you don't recruit, you'd better go look for a different game to play. We were allowed to give our players a waiver of tuition this year, but our tuition is only $95 a semester, so it didn't amount to much. If the school wants us to continue at this level, it's going to have to contribute more."
UCLA so far has put up $180,000 for women's athletics, and one beneficiary has been the basketball team, now in its second season and conspicuous by its absence from the AIAW tournament. UCLA and Fullerton ended their regular seasons tied 9-1 in the Southern California Women's Intercollegiate Conference, but because UCLA played an ineligible graduate student last season, it has been placed on probation for two years by the western region of the AIAW. That barred the Bruins from the regional tournament to determine who would represent the West in the nationals. UCLA has appealed to the AIAW and the courts, but has been turned down. Some members of the national group feel the penalty is too severe; when the probation is reviewed again, there is a chance it will be rescinded or reduced.
Still, Meyers was in Harrisonburg last week, dividing her time between the tournament and the TV set in her motel room, where she watched brother Dave and the other members of the Bruin men's team in the NCAA regionals. She and nine other players had been elected by the coaches to a new Kodak All-America team, and she was en route to Washington, D.C. to receive her award.
Fortunately, the coaches who voted for Meyers also chose Harris of Delta State. If they had not, the spectators in Godwin Hall surely would have demanded a recount. While Immaculata had been working its way through the top of the draw, Delta State had progressed through a 77-75 overtime defeat of Federal City of Washington, D.C. and an 88-66 runaway over Tennessee Tech. Harris scored 42 points in that game, redeeming herself for having fouled out with almost 10 minutes left against Federal City.
"I always get in foul trouble," she said, her sad gaze fastened on the toes of her green-and-white high tops. She had been so downcast the morning after the Federal City game that she would not come out of her motel room for breakfast. Her teammates, who look out for her psyche, took her some doughnuts.
In the semis Harris and her caterers met Southern Connecticut, a good team with a run-and-shoot offense designed to overcome its lack of a 6-footer. Southern pressed continuously, and the pace of the game was strenuous. Tiny Brock scored 12 points, making her third high scorer for Delta behind Harris with 32 and Ward with 14, but two minutes before the end of the game she collapsed, exhausted and vomiting, on the sideline. When Ward was asked whether Southern Connecticut's was the best press Delta State ever faced, she replied, "It's the only press we've ever faced." The game was the best of the tournament, the Ladies winning 71-68.
A standing-room-only crowd of 5,000 turned out for the final between the Macs and Delta. About a quarter of the fans were Immaculata rooters and the rest were united by a singular desire—to see the Macs get it in the head. Immaculata, like the Yankees and the Celtics, have learned quickly how to live unloved. Wave after wave of affection broke over big, lovable Harris and courageous little Brock and elegant, redheaded Wanda Hairston, who pranced up and down like a show horse, and feisty, unflappable Cornelia Ward. They were a whole new set of heroes—or, rather, heroines.
Harris scored on the first play. Brock stole the ball from Immaculata on the second and Harris scored again, and the fans went berserk. Delta was obviously hot, and just as obviously unimpressed by the record and reputation of its opponents. By halftime Harris had 19 points while three Immaculata players—Muth, Martin and backup Center Dolly Van Buskirk—had three fouls apiece. By intermission Delta had outshot Immaculata by the huge margin of 65% to 33% and was leading 39-33.
Nine minutes into the second half Delta led 62-52 and made that 10-point lead stand up despite Immaculata's very physical press which forced frequent Delta turnovers—nine by Brock, eight by Ward and six by Hairston. But when the Macs failed to steal the ball, Delta almost inevitably ended up going to the foul line. The Ladies took nearly three times as many free throws as Immaculata and sank 83.3% of them.
With less than a minute remaining to play, Harris had scored all of her game-high 32 points, Ward had added 20 more, and the Mighty Macs were so obviously beaten that Rush took Crawford out of the game.
Like a little kid who does not want to go to bed yet, Crawford, who had scored 16 points, dragged her feet and looked longingly back over her shoulder as she moved haltingly toward the sideline. Suddenly, as if to delay the end a little longer, she went back and one by one shook the hands of the new champions.