Thanks to Summitt's labors, Michelle strongly considered Tennessee, as well as Rutgers, Texas and Stanford. But she surprised everyone, her parents and Irish coach Muffet McGraw included, when she chose Notre Dame. She hadn't even visited the campus when she made her verbal commitment. "Frankly, I never thought we had a shot," says McGraw. But beyond the fact that McGraw directs the wide-open, transition-game style that Marciniak loves, Notre Dame did have a few hidden advantages. For one thing, Michelle's father, a highly recruited scholastic fullback 28 years ago, had turned down the Irish in favor of Maryland. Although he didn't push Michelle, Walter voiced the opinion that, "I really didn't want two Marciniaks saying no to Notre Dame." Michelle felt some subtle parochial-school pressure, too. This is a girl, after all, who has played her entire scholastic career on the court of Rockne Hall, named for Knute. The final factor in the decision was supplied by McGraw, who made that most alluring of recruiting pitches. "We made no secret of the fact that she would start here immediately," says McGraw. "We need a freshman to come and take us to the next level."
Given her track record in all sports, Marciniak will do just that. Although she grew up as the alien in the boys' games, Michelle remembers few cases of gender prejudice, simply because her ability and enthusiasm broke down barriers. She wasn't just an adequate centerfielder as the only girl in Little League—she was an all-star. She wasn't merely a 12-year-old starter on the boys' CYO basketball team—she was its best player, perhaps the best player in the entire league. The Marciniaks remember sitting behind the coach of an opposing team who wondered, "Jeez, is this the first time we've ever played a box-and-one on a girl?"
In high school, she had to play with the girls—in softball and volleyball, anyway—and was honorable mention all—conference in both sports. As a center-forward on the boys' soccer team, Michelle was the team's second-leading scorer as a freshman. She concentrated on golf and basketball as a junior and senior. This past fall she played in the No. 4 slot on the boys' golf team, and finished 14th among girls in the state meet. She was one of five finalists for the 1990 Dial Award—former U.S. Women's Amateur golf champ Vicki Goetze won it—which is presented annually to the top female prep student-athlete in the country.
"Everything about her is perfect," says her sister, Kim, a 21-year-old senior at Penn State who was an excellent high school diver. "Good student, good daughter. Doesn't smoke, doesn't drink." Brother Steve, a 19-year-old sophomore at the Penn State—Allentown campus, nods his head in agreement. "Good grades [3.5 cumulative average], good person, popular, good sister," Steve says.
Come on, she must be bad at something! Kim and Steve look at each other and snap their fingers. "She can't sing!"
And, oh yes—she can't handle Steve (a former high school football player who is 6'2", 220 pounds) in the brutal one-on-one games they play on the Marciniak's backyard court. "We must've played a thousand times, and I've only beaten him once or twice," says Michelle. "He posts me up and just overpowers me. I can't do anything with him. But it's made me a lot tougher. I owe a lot to Steve." And Michelle's success has made Steve's life richer, he says in turn. In fact, he chose a college close to home expressly so he could attend his sister's games, and he's now trying to transfer to Notre Dame so he can keep up the practice. Kim has done her share of cheerleading, too, having frequently made the 320-mile round-trip drive from State College to Allentown so she could watch her sister play. Michelle's parents never miss a game, and tucked away in Betsy Marciniak's purse is a little black book containing all of her daughter's basketball statistics.
Michelle does a good job of dealing with the attention, but even she admits she was taken aback this summer when she spoke at a basketball camp and saw dozens of little Michelles staring back at her. "I looked out in the crowd and all these little girls had their hair tied back in ponytails with scrunchies," says Michelle. "It was kind of spooky." And who knows how many of them had photos of Michelle Marciniak tucked away in their socks?