A part of something mighty

110112 Im­macu­lata Uni­versity - Wo­men’s Bas­ket­ball vs Cab­rini

When Leah Kuczyn­ski was 10, she walked onto the Im­macu­lata Uni­versity bas­ket­ball court for the first time. She was play­ing for the North­east Rock­ers and was thrilled about the chance to play on the revered Mighty Mac hard­wood.

“My mom re­membered when the Mighty Macs won the na­tion­al cham­pi­on­ships. She began to tell me the story,” Kuczyn­ski ex­plained, re­fer­ring to that fabled Im­macu­lata sea­son nearly 40 years ago. “I didn’t fully un­der­stand the sig­ni­fic­ance of it, but I al­ways said I wanted to be a Mighty Mac when I got older.”

Now she’s liv­ing the dream.

Kuczyn­ski, a ju­ni­or, plays at for­ward for Im­macu­lata Uni­versity and helped the Mighty Macs go un­defeated in the Co­lo­ni­al States Ath­let­ic Con­fer­ence this sea­son (6-5 over­all). A North­east nat­ive and Naz­areth Academy gradu­ate, Kuczyn­ski is the second-highest scorer on her squad, av­er­aging 12.7 points per game.

Most re­cently, the Mighty Macs traveled to Nas­sau in the Ba­hamas last week to com­pete in the Sun­shine Shootout Tour­na­ment. They lost both games of the show­case, fall­ing to Wash­ing­ton and Jef­fer­son Col­lege, 73-51, on Monday af­ter­noon, then Beth­any Col­lege, 76-54, on Tues­day.

“We didn’t play that well, but there were some really good teams,” said Kuczyn­ski. “We were happy to play such good teams. It’s bet­ter be­cause it gets us more ready for our con­fer­ence.”

The Mighty Macs are on a hol­i­day break at the mo­ment. They’ll re­turn to the court in front of a home crowd on Jan. 5 against Le­ban­on Val­ley.

“We’ve had a great sea­son so far,” said Kuczyn­ski. “The years of ex­per­i­ence we have play­ing with each oth­er is def­in­itely a big part of our suc­cess. Three of the starters are seni­ors and two are ju­ni­ors. We’ve been play­ing to­geth­er since our fresh­man and sopho­more years — that def­in­itely works to our ad­vant­age.”

Be­ing able to com­pete in blue and white has al­ways been a dream of Kuczyn­ski’s. The Mighty Macs have a rich his­tory that re­cently was trans­formed to the big screen in a film writ­ten, dir­ec­ted and pro­duced by Tim Cham­bers. 

The film — based on the true story about Im­macu­lata Uni­versity’s first na­tion­al cham­pi­on­ship in 1972 — was re­leased in theatres in Oc­to­ber. The Mighty Macs re­calls the true story of coach Cathy Rush (played by Carla Gu­gino) and how she guided her team to suc­cess against all odds, in­clud­ing the school’s dire fin­ances and lack of bas­ket­ball fa­cil­it­ies. Rush didn’t even have enough play­ers to fill a team roster.

But at a time when wo­men’s col­legi­ate sports struggled for valid­ity, the Mighty Macs proved that any­thing is pos­sible. They won their first na­tion­al cham­pi­on­ship in ’72 — and then re­claimed the title in ’73 and ’74. Im­macu­lata — known back then as Im­macu­lata Col­lege — went on to play in the na­tion­al cham­pi­on­ship game in 1975, ’76 and ’77, be­com­ing the only school to ever play in six con­sec­ut­ive fi­nals.

Rush led her squad to the Fi­nal Four tour­na­ment in 1977 — her last sea­son as coach. She fin­ished her sev­en-year ca­reer with a re­mark­able 149-15 re­cord.

“It’s def­in­itely a proud thing to wear an Im­macu­lata jer­sey. Not many teams have na­tion­al cham­pi­on­ship ban­ners hanging in their gym,” said Kuczyn­ski. “It’s amaz­ing. It makes you want to work that much harder when you think of girls that wore that uni­form be­fore you. I’m proud to be part of a school that sup­por­ted wo­men ath­let­ic­ally and aca­dem­ic­ally.”

Im­macu­lata Uni­versity had an ad­vance screen­ing of the movie on cam­pus last spring. The cur­rent Mighty Macs saw it again on open­ing night of the sea­son.

“We’ve seen it a bunch of times. I love it,” said Kuczyn­ski. “The movie was filmed at the school, so a lot of people come to cam­pus to see where it is. It’s def­in­itely an ex­cit­ing time to be a mem­ber of the Mighty Macs.”

A lifelong play­er on the court, Kuczyn­ski has teamed up with the North­east Rock­ers, Tor­res­dale Boys Club, St. Kath­er­ine of Si­enna and Naz­areth Academy High School be­fore mov­ing on to play for the Macs.

She has a 4.0 grade-point av­er­age in the classroom and is en­rolled in Im­macu­lata Uni­versity’s phys­ic­al-ther­apy pro­gram.

After com­plet­ing three years of classes at the uni­versity, she’ll be­gin a three-year pro­gram at Thomas Jef­fer­son Hos­pit­al, study­ing ex­er­cise sci­ence.

“Classes are go­ing awe­some. I def­in­itely fell in love with it (phys­ic­al ther­apy),” said Kuczyn­ski, who also is in­volved with her school’s swim club, dance com­pany, cam­pus min­istry, ex­er­cise sci­ence club and Im­macu­lata Hon­or So­ci­ety. “Sports ac­tu­ally helps me with school­work be­cause it keeps me or­gan­ized. It’s over­whelm­ing some­times, but it’s def­in­itely worth it.

“Its nice to have so many op­por­tun­it­ies at Im­macu­lata,” she con­tin­ued. “I love the game of bas­ket­ball. I def­in­itely learned to ap­pre­ci­ate it more and more. You un­der­stand how big a part it’s played in your life. It’s the reas­on why I’m here and the reas­on why I’ve had all these op­por­tun­it­ies, all these friend­ships I’ve made.” ••

You can reach at myerkov@bsmphilly.com.

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