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."
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.