Remembering Cathy Inglese, Boston College Women’s Basketball’s Greatest Coach

Cathy Inglese, age 60, died on July 24, 2019 after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a fall at her home. The following is her story that I wrote in 2014, when she was inducted into the Boston College Varsity Club Hall of Fame. She was one of the very best. May she rest in peace.

The coach with the most wins in the history of Boston College basketball had never planned to make coaching her career.

Cathy Inglese graduated from Southern Connecticut State on a Friday. She started teaching at Glastonbury High School the following Monday. She reapplied for a full-time position the following September. They told her that of course, since she’d been a star basketball player in college, she’d coach as well as teach.

“Southern was a good program when I played there, but coaching never entered my mind. I was planning to get a master’s degree in nutrition,” Cathy said.

A multi-sport star throughout high school, Cathy had turned down offers from BC, UConn and Providence to play basketball at her parents’ alma mater. She had been a good athlete since her childhood in the town of Wallingford.  “They were outside all day long,” her mother Nancy said about Cathy and her siblings. If it wasn’t baseball or basketball, they’d be climbing trees.”

In the fall of her third year of teaching, Cathy attended a Big East coaches’ clinic in Hartford and met up with Cecilia DeMarco, head coach at the University of New Hampshire. That spring, DeMarco called about an opening for an assistant basketball coach and assistant athletic director.

“My father had asked me if I’d ever like to try teaching in college, and I figured, ‘what have I got to lose.’ I was 26 at the time. I found that I liked working with student-athletes who were away from home for the first time. I got to travel, to teach, to recruit and to sell,” she explains.

Three years later, Cathy took over the University of Vermont basketball program, which had never had a winning season. Over seven years there, she transformed both Catamount basketball and herself. In her last two seasons, UVM went 29-1 and 28-1 and made the NCAA tournament.

Off the court, she conquered her fear of public speaking and hit the circuit. She addressed executives at IBM’s Vermont facility, among others, and discoursed on topics like leadership, motivation, and teamwork.

“I learned that it doesn’t matter if you’re the president of a company or a coach. You’ve got to have goals. You’ve got to believe in yourself. And it takes time. When you bring people from different backgrounds and with different outlooks, you can succeed as long you share the same vision.”

“I was lucky at Vermont,” she said. “I got to make all my mistakes early, in things like recruiting and in the systems I tried.”

Vermont was where Inglese learned to be a head coach. Boston College was where she put that all that knowledge to work. When Eagle athletic director Chet Gladchuk came calling, it didn’t take much convincing for him to bring her on board.

Again, it took time. Three losing seasons to start off. No fans at Conte Forum. But she made it clear to Gladchuk that there should be no more games in the adjoining Power Gym either. It was going to be a big-time program in a big-time facility.

“In our first game, it was so quiet you could hear the ball bouncing. It wasn’t a great environment, but it was something to build on,” she said.

Gradually, the talented athletes started to arrive. Cal Bouchard, who wasn’t widely known to college coaches, was a recruiting breakthrough. Cathy pursued Cal her after seeing a videotape of her being interviewed on television in Canada. Bouchard’s rookie year of 1996-97 was an 18-10 campaign and Inglese’s first winning one at the Heights.

Many more star athletes and successful seasons would follow. In her 15 years at the Heights, Cathy amassed a record of 273-179.  Among the highlights was the Big East championship in 2004. Inglese’s fifth-seeded Eagles won four games in four nights at the Hartford Civic Center, including a 51-48 semifinal conquest of nemesis Connecticut.

Cathy’s teams also had seven NCAA Tournament bids, and three advances to the national championship tourney’s Sweet 16. In 2005-06, the first year in the ACC, the Eagles lost their last five contests but still qualified for the NCAAs. At the Albuquerque Regional, they defeated Notre Dame and then top-seeded Ohio State, to once again make the round of 16.

Erik Johnson, now the head coach at BC, was Cathy’s assistant in her last three seasons. He marvels at the attention to detail and her meticulous planning that frequently brought victories over more talented opponents.

“I learned from her that that there’s no magic formula to winning at a high level. But every little thing matters. So we might not have players that are as big or as fast as North Carolina’s, but we could beat them because we made fewer mistakes. We moved the ball better, we were better prepared. Our fundamentals were better,” he said.

Clare Droesch was a free-wheeling shooter, a high school All-America when she arrived in 2001. For her, it was a struggle in adjusting to the Inglese way.

“She was an X and O coach who would look for five or six passes before the shot. It was hard, but it finally clicked for me in junior and senior years. When you bought into the system, it worked,” said Clare.

“We were one of the highest-percentage teams in the country. Coach did an amazing job of building offenses and defenses with the players she had.  When she saw potential, she’d push you to the limit of what you could be.”

Brooke Queenan, who played on all three of Inglese’s Sweet 16 squads, adds,

“I’ve never had a coach with her work ethic, and how goal-oriented she was. She demanded that from all of us.”

Interviewing Cathy at her home in Rhode Island in 2014

The team went 21-12 in 2007-08, Cathy’s final year at Boston College. After departing, she took a year off, then became head coach at the University of Rhode Island. Kingston wasn’t Chestnut Hill, though, and it didn’t happen for Cathy’s Rams. After five seasons, she moved on to explore other options including athletic administration, non-profit development, and leadership consulting.

The world hasn’t heard the last of Cathy Inglese, and it will be a long time before any coach in any sport at Boston College compiles a record of success like hers.

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