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  • CacheTime=0> Legendary Mimnaugh still has her spunky style
    2015-'16 Season Coverage
    Article posted: 11/8/2013 9:29 PM
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    Legendary Mimnaugh still has her spunky style
    • The most-successful coach in the 40-year history of Cal Poly women's basketball, Faith Mimnaugh, opens her 17th season at the helm of the Mustang program this weekend. The former Elk Grove High School standout led Cal Poly to the NCAA Tournament last season.

      The most-successful coach in the 40-year history of Cal Poly women's basketball, Faith Mimnaugh, opens her 17th season at the helm of the Mustang program this weekend. The former Elk Grove High School standout led Cal Poly to the NCAA Tournament last season. Photo courtesy of Cal Poly Athletics/Matt A. Brown

    • Faith Mimnaugh, who won a state basketball title as a player at Elk Grove High School in 1981, is now in her 17th season as the head coach of women's basketball at Cal Poly. The Mustangs are playing this weekend at DePaul.

      Faith Mimnaugh, who won a state basketball title as a player at Elk Grove High School in 1981, is now in her 17th season as the head coach of women's basketball at Cal Poly. The Mustangs are playing this weekend at DePaul. Photo courtesy of Cal Poly Athletics/Matt A. Brown

     

    There was a time, not so long ago, when it was a challenge to find an NBA game on television.

    So when people started calling her "Lady Magic" in high school, Faith Mimnaugh wasn't sure what to make of it. She had heard about Magic Johnson, but she hadn't seen him play.

    Story Continues Below

    "Magic was just kind of coming on the scene when I was in high school," said Mimnaugh, a 1981 graduate of Elk Grove High. "People who had seen him play and then would see me play would call me 'Lady Magic.' When I finally did see him, I was in awe and amazed that anyone would see a similarity between me and him.

    "But I did do a lot of no-look passes and I had quick ball-handling, so I guess that's why they started calling me Lady Magic."

    Mimnaugh, a spunky 5-foot-3 point guard then, seems just as spunky now as head women's coach at Cal Poly, which is opening its season this weekend at DePaul. She headlined one of the most magical seasons in Mid-Suburban League girls basketball history in 1981, when she led the Grenadiers to the Class AA state championship with a 31-1 record.

    Besides a string of cheerleading titles, the basketball title is the only sports state championship in Elk Grove history, and it is one of just two state basketball titles for girls in MSL history.

    "It was incredible, one of the fondest memories I have," Mimnaugh said. "Winning it, but also to see how it forged the community together. It didn't matter that it was girls. We had all kinds of people coming to our games.

    "We sold out one of our games when we hosted East St. Louis and (future Olympic track champion) Jackie Joyner-Kersee was on the team. There was not a seat to be had. People were sitting in the rafters. It was the game to see in the Chicago area."

    Mimnaugh is ecstatic to be back in the Chicago area for just the third time in her 19-year career as a head coach. She loves the scenery, beaches and near-perfect weather in San Luis Obispo, but has a gigantic soft spot for the place where her love of basketball began. She still has relatives in the Chicago area.

    "San Luis Obispo is amazing. Oprah once called it the happiest place in the America," chuckled Mimnaugh, who has spent 17 years as head coach at Cal Poly. "It's got great weather all year long. It's got this neat college town feel, it's halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It's paradise.

    "But I still love my hometown. No matter where I'm at, I always call Chicago home."

    Mimnaugh grew up in Elk Grove with her big brother Tim and her twin sister, Joy. She loved doing whatever her brother did.

    "I was a big tag-a-long," Mimnaugh said. "Following Tim around was pretty much how I learned how to play basketball.

    "He played three seasons on varsity and helped Elk Grove make it to the sectional finals. He was a do-it-all kind of player. He was my idol."

    By hanging around, Mimnaugh worked her way into games with the boys, and eventually, she was a starter for her junior high boys team.

    There wasn't a girls team at Lively Junior High.

    "I didn't realize at the time what a big deal it was," Mimnaugh said. "One team protested that I was playing. At one game, there were boys from the other team who were sitting on the bench and they'd try to trip me as I went by. There were parents who complained.

    "But I just wanted to play so much that I didn't care. I was a little spunk and I just wanted to be out on the court."

    The boys made a tough Mimnaugh even tougher and she eventually earned a full basketball scholarship to Loyola to play for Marty Hawkins. She still holds Loyola's all-time assist record, and is in their Hall of Fame.

    "When I got to Loyola, Marty handed me a ball and said, 'Give it back to me in four years,'" said Mimnaugh, who graduated from there in 1985. "For a coach to give that kind of responsibility to a freshman point guard was pretty incredible. As a coach now, I know how hard that can be."

    Mimnaugh sees a lot of Hickman's coaching style in her own. She also took more than a few pages from the playbook of the late Kay Yow, North Carolina State's legendary coach. Mimnaugh was an assistant for Yow for four seasons in the mid-1980s.

    "I learned so much from Kay and Marty. I've just been so blessed to have had so many great people and coaches in my life," Mimnaugh said. "When I was younger, I wasn't sure that I wanted to be a coach. But I'm so glad I got the opportunity. Being able to work with kids and see them grow and develop is very special to me."

    Talk about special. An NCAA tournament berth last season was the cherry on top of the sundae for Mimnaugh. It was the first for Cal Poly.

    "That was unbelievable," Mimnaugh said. "We had been to the WNIT before, but to finally get (to the NCAA tournament), was pretty special for us."

    Indeed, the happiest place in the United States got even happier last March. Maybe "Lady Magic" should resurrect her old nickname.

    pbabcock@dailyherald.com

    Follow Patricia on Twitter @babcockmcgraw.

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