As the Final Four is set to be played this weekend in San Antonio, Faith Mimnaugh is counting the hours and minutes down until tip-off.
The Cal Poly women’s basketball coach is always interested in watching the sport’s biggest weekend take place.
This Final Four, however, is a little extra special.
“I’m a proud (Loyola) alum,” said Mimnaugh. “I think I was the first full-scholarship women’s basketball player at Loyola.”
The Illinois-native starred for the Ramblers from 1981-1985. As point guard, Mimnaugh established herself as one of the top players in program history.
“I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity,” said Mimnaugh. “When I was in high school, I got the privileged of being on a state team that won a state championship, so Coach Marty Hawkins that had been recruiting me all year, had a vision and said come on over to Loyola and we’ll do some fun things there.”
Mimnaugh had plenty of fun during her great career, finishing as the team’s all-time leader in assists, a mark that still remains.
In 1991, Mimnaugh was inducted into the Loyola Athletic Hall of Fame. She is also a member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“I’m very proud to have been there,” said Mimnaugh. “I think Loyola has been very generous to me in providing me with a free education with scholarships and hopefully I’ve been able to make them proud with the basketball legacy.”
She is continuing that legacy at Cal Poly, where she has coached since 1996.
With the Mustangs season now over, she has had time to watch the Ramblers amazing run during the NCAA Tournament, which began with a first round upset of Miami (FL).
“It’s awesome! It’s so incredible when you see the little guy succeed,” said Mimnaugh. “As soon as I saw their style and how well they shared the basketball, I thought, these guys are good. They’ve got a chance to go a little further than most people predict.”
The 11th seeded Ramblers followed their win over the Hurricanes with three more upset victories over, Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State.
Mimnaugh believes it’s no accident the Ramblers have been able to collect four straight win over higher ranked opponents.
“Fundamentally, they’re off the charts,” said Mimnaugh. “One of the best defensive teams I’ve seen, not just this year, but for several years.”
She added there could also be something else that might explain their Cinderella run to the Final Four.
“There a little bit of God thing going on here too, I’m not going to lie, but that’s where the magic is,” said Mimnaugh. “It’s all these things coming together and who knows what God has in store for this team.”
As for Sister Jean, the team’s now famous 98-year-old chaplain, who has skyrocketed to super-stardom during the tournament, Mimnaugh believes she too has a hand in their success.
“I’m not going to discount Sister Jean’s prayers,” said Mimnaugh.
During each game, Mimnaugh has worn her college warmup suit from her playing days. So far, the team is a perfect 4-0 during the time she’s worn it this month.
For Saturday’s Final Four game, she’s planning on wearing it again and is hoping the luck continues. While she would love to be in San Antonio for the game, she will remain at home on the Central Coast.
“I know they have watch parties for Loyola alums in LA and San Francisco and San Diego, I’m not going to make the drive,” said Mimnaugh. “I’m just going to sit my living room going crazy.”
Loyola has won a national championship before, beating Cincinnati for the title in 1963. That championship, though, was during a much different era in college basketball. Should the Ramblers win it again, it would arguably be the biggest championship surprise in college basketball history.
“I would just be thrilled if they were to hang another national championship on their rooftop, it would just be amazing, but whether it does or doesn’t, I think they’ve brought in the true nature of what Loyola and the university is all about, which is giving,” said Mimnaugh.
Loyola-Chicago is scheduled to play Michigan on Saturday at 3:09 p.m.
The winner will play either Villanova or Kansas for the championship on Monday.