Former Coach Donna Smith Had Good Feeling About Mother McAuley's First Volleyball State Championship Team
Standout player Cathy Spencer Moran proud to be part of tradition-rich program's first title in 1977, proud to relive the Glory Days of the Mighty Macs.
When Mother McAuley joined the Illinois High School Association in 1977, volleyball player Cathy Spencer Moran wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
That is, until a meeting with Donna Smith, who was the McAuley head coach that season.
“She told us we could win state and we believed her,” Moran said. “We wanted to win big-time in our first season.”
The Mighty Macs did exactly that in dominating fashion.
Mother McAuley capped a perfect 32-0 season by beating Queen of Peace 20-9, 20-3 for the first of what would become many state volleyball championships for the program.
“It was a good group of people,” Moran said. “Everyone got along and we just had a blast together. A lot of us hung out together even when we weren’t on the court. Donna (Smith) was a really good coach. She was fun and not overbearing. She pushed us, but she knew when we were done. It was just a great experience.”
Mother McAuley’s first title team consisted of Moran, Mary Boyle, Kathy Conway, Ann Collolly, Rita Dorow, Anne LaVoie, Patty McLaughlin, Mary Ellen McPartlin, Sue McShane, Molly Murphy, Diane O’Donnell and Sue Roger.
The IHSA first offered girls volleyball in 1974, but McAuley elected to remain in the Catholic Youth Organization where it dominated the competition along with Queen of Peace.
“We had an extremely strong program, and we didn’t join the IHSA right away,” Smith said. “We could practice year-round (in the CYO), participate in park district events and had no limitations. When the girls started receiving scholarships to college, it became apparent that we needed to go in a different direction and join the IHSA.”
While Mother McAuley was a relatively unknown commodity to many schools at the time, Smith knew that would change quickly.
She knew a coach at Maine South and was able to get her team entered into the one of the most prominent tournaments at the time.
“Nobody had an idea who Mother McAuley High School was, but we went through everybody in the tournament like butter,” Smith said. “It was a great experience for the kids and for me. I knew from Day One that season that our team was going to win the state tournament.
"The Catholic grammar schools all had programs and kids were exposed to volleyball early in life. The public and suburban schools didn’t have feeder programs back then, so most of the kids didn’t have experience and were at a disadvantage. Many of the players were raw, where as the Catholic kids already had experience, which made a big difference.”
McAuley easily has earned the most state volleyball championships in the state of Illinois with 13.
First-Time Champs, Old-Timers Now
Moran, who went on to play four seasons at Division II power Lewis University, is grateful to have contributed to the first championship team.
“During alumni games, they always announce the championship teams, and we’re always the first ones mentioned, which also means we’re the oldest,” Moran said with a laugh. “It’s always nice being the first one to do something like that. We had a feeling that it was the beginning of something big.”
Moran fondly recalls the players proudly wearing the red and white hats that the Retired Sisters of Mercy residing in Mercy Hall knitted for them before heading to state.
She still chuckles at the thought of teammate McShane often walking around the court at practice on her hands to lighten the mood, and she will never forget the players proudly singing "We are the Champions" while running up and down the bleachers long after winning the championship match.
“What made it special was, even though Catholic schools don’t have boundaries, all the kids on our team at the time were from the neighborhood,” Smith said.
“Many of them went to St. Barnabas or Queen of Martyrs. They grew up together and most of them played together. They were very talented and intense players who had the same goals as mine. We wanted to do the best we could and win the state championship. We wanted to put Mother McAuley on the map.”
COMING THURSDAY: Log back on at 6 a.m. on Thursday and take a stroll down memory lane. The 1977 Mother McAuley state championship volleyball team is remembered as the group that started it all for the Mighty Macs.