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.” ••