WALLINGFORD — Cathy Inglese has passed away from the traumatic brain injury she suffered in a fall last week.
The veteran college women’s basketball coach from Wallingford was injured at Hofsta University, where she had been hired as an assistant coach in June. She had undergone two surgeries at North Shore University Hospital in nearby Manhasset, N.Y.
Inglese passed away Wednesday, according to an announcement posted on Facebook by her sister Karen Inglese, a teacher at Sheehan High School, where Cathy Inglese once starred as a student-athlete.
Cathy Inglese visited her alma mater in March to speak with the 2019 Lady Titans before they played in this year’s CIAC Class M girls basketball championship game.
“Rest in Peace, Coach Inglese. We will never forget the day we got to spend with you last March,” the team posted on its Twitter account. “You inspired us to be better at everything we do.”
“It’s a sad day. It’s just a sad day,” said Sheehan girls basketball coach Mike Busillo on Thursday morning.
“I don’t know if those who are coming through Sheehan now or those who came through in the recent past understand this woman’s impact on women’s basketball during her coaching career and the amount of success she had,” Busillo added. “She was at BC when BC beat UConn when UConn had Diana Taurasi: She was that good.
“This is a Sheehan kid. This is a Wallingford kid,” said Busillo. “I don’t know if enough people know that. Or they’ll know it now.”
Busillo’s players certainly knew who Inglese was. They knew about her playing career at Sheehan and Southern Connecticut State University in the 1970s, when girls sports were just taking deep root after the passage of Title IX.
They knew about her coaching resume at the University of Vermont, Boston College and the University of Rhode Island.
Inglese was still associate head coach at Fairleigh Dickinson when she visited the Lady Titans in March. Initially, when Busillo reached out to Inglese, the thought was she could email a message to the 2019 Titans about her own experiences as a member of Sheehan’s 1976 championship team and as a college coach.
Inglese delivered a message, all right. She delivered it in person. Sitting cross-legged on the floor with the teenagers, the 60-year-old coach spoke about what an individual can do to make a group better.
Listening closely with her teammates was senior Liv Robles, who followed in Inglese’s footsteps as a 1,000-point scorer and All-State player at Sheehan.
“I am honored to have gone to the same high school and to have gotten to meet such an amazing person to help me through the recruiting process,” Robles tweeted Thursday morning. “Truly one of a kind.”
Inglese was the first 1,000-point scorer in Sheehan girls basketball history. She led the Titans to the 1976 state title, which remains the only state championship the Lady Titans have won on the hardwood.
Inglese went on to play at the SCSU. Her 40-point game against UMass on Feb. 20, 1980 is that program’s single-game record
News of Inglese’s death hit hard at the New Haven school. Inglese’s father, Vincent, had also been a basketball standout at Southern.
“The entire Southern Connecticut community is saddened to hear of Cathy’s passing,” athletic director Jay Moran said in a statement. “As one of the all-time great student-athletes in Southern women’s basketball history, Cathy had a profound impact on the program and left an indelible mark on Southern Connecticut athletics.”
In her four seasons at Southern, Inglese led the Owls to three national postseason tournaments. She had 1,194 career points.
As a senior, Inglese was the first captain for rookie head coach Tony Barone.
“She was truly one of the most disciplined athletes I ever had and certainly one of the most knowledgeable,” Barone said in a statement issued through SCSU. “She was a great individual and a very caring person. She loved coaching. It was her passion and she was dedicated to it for a long time. I have no doubt that she's in some way still coaching today. I'm going to miss her.”
Inglese’s Division I head coaching career began on the shores of Lake Champlain, at the University of Vermont. She won three America East Coach of the Year awards there and led the Catamounts to back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1992 and 1993.
After that 1993 season, Inglese was off to Boston College and the Big East. She’d coach there until 2008, winning 239 games with the Eagles and taking them to seven NCAA Tournaments, including three trips to the Sweet 16.
As Busillo mentioned, BC won the Big East Conference crown in 2004 after defeating UConn in the semifinals.
Inglese is a member of multiple Halls of Fame: Sheehan, the University of Vermont, the Connecticut Basketball Hall of Fame, the Massachusetts Chapter of the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame and the New Agenda Northeast Hall of Fame for "advancing the role of women in sports.