The following year, the new gym in Alumnae Hall was completed. The team would no longer have to play all of the games as visitors. However, the new gym wasn't large enough to accommodate bleachers, there was only room for a few rows of chairs. The players were responsible for setting up the chairs before the game and returning them after the game. With Shank now available, the team won all twelve of their regular season games, and earned a spot in the Regional Tournament.
The Regional Tournament format included four games in three days, to reduce the cost of lodging. The Immaculata team won their first three games, and in the final game, faced Rush's alma mater, West Chester State. That game wasn't close, with West Chester State winning by 32 points 70–38. The team thought their season was over and headed home. When they arrived home, they were surprised by a welcome home pep rally. They didn't realize that the invitation for the AIAW national tournament would include regular season results—they were invited as the 15th seed of the 16 invited teams. They were one of six teams to lose a game in the regionals, and earn a spot in the first ever AIAW Women's Basketball Tournament.
The team had no budget for post-season travel. The team organized raffles to sell toothbrushes to raise enough money for the trip to Illinois State University. They weren't able to raise enough money for all eleven players so only eight players, plus the coach were able to go. Even then, they had to fly stand-by to stretch their meager funds. They stayed four to a room and two to a bed, limiting their daily spending to seven dollars for meals.
Their first opponent was South Dakota State. Immaculata won 60–47, to move on to the second round. The next day, they faced Indiana, and won a close game 49–46. Without any time off, they played the semifinal round against Mississippi State College, who had won the national championship the prior year. The following day, they would face West Chester College once again, the team that had beaten them by 32 a few days earlier, and the national runner-up in both 1970 and 1971.
Despite Ed's lack of confidence—he cautioned Cathy—"Don’t be disappointed when you lose", the result this time would be different. The Macs won a close game 52–48, and a pregnant Cathy Rush was the head coach of the first AIAW National Champions. On the trip home, someone arranged to upgrade the team to first class. When they arrived at the airport, the pilot asked the team to stay on the plane—a large crowd had gathered. Rush realized that her low-key job wasn't going to stay that way. As happy as they had been to win the game, the magnitude of the event didn't sink in until they came home. Only five fans had managed to travel to the tournament, but there were 500 fans at the airport when they returned.
Their nickname had been simply "Macs". After the team won the national championship, George Heaslip, the sports editor of the Daily Local News, wrote, “One thing, for sure. They’re going to have to change that nickname. No more ‘Macs.’ How about ‘The Mighty Macs’?”. The nickname was picked up and the team have been known as the Mighty Macs ever since. The term was used for the title of the movie about their championship run.
Read more about this topic: Cathy Rush
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