Former Lehigh women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw strives to be a role model to her players, serving as a mentor and presenting a strong voice for women’s equality.
Her personal ties to Bethlehem compel her to give back to the women’s basketball program every year through donations.
McGraw debuted her coaching career at Stabler Arena in 1982, remaining there for five years, where she recorded her first 88 wins as a college coach. Her affinity for coaching led her to accept an offer as head coach at Notre Dame in 1987.
With several strong female representatives within the athletics department at Lehigh at the time — the head field hockey, women’s tennis and women’s lacrosse coaches were all female — McGraw felt confident about her decision to work in an environment that would value and respect her.
But McGraw’s tenure at Lehigh marked only the beginning of what would be a long and successful coaching career.
Entering her 25th season as coach of the Lehigh women’s basketball team, Sue Troyan began her career at Lehigh as a graduate assistant. Although she missed McGraw by eight years, Troyan said the two have been connected ever since.
“She showed me the ropes, gave me access to things and opened up all facets of her program to me,” Troyan said. “(McGraw) is a mentor to me.”
Troyan’s willingness to learn from one of the most decorated coaches in the sport has contributed to Lehigh’s success over the years. Because McGraw and Troyan have maintained a close relationship, Lehigh and Notre Dame’s programs share a connection, as well.
During the search for a replacement to fill a staff opening in Lehigh’s program in 2017, Troyan called McGraw and asked if any of her former players would be interested in taking on a coaching job.
McGraw offered Ariel Baker, a 2014 Notre Dame graduate and member of the class who recorded the most wins in program history. Baker joined Lehigh’s coaching staff in August 2017 after serving as an assistant coach at Western Texas College during the 2016-17 season.
Baker spoke fondly of her and McGraw’s similar senses of dry humor, and how she began to connect with McGraw’s coaching style the longer she was a part of the program. Baker said McGraw is a blunt coach who knows how to get things done.
“She puts a masterpiece together (on the court),” Baker said. “She believed in our class. For us, nothing was superficial — we were the same as coach.”
McGraw said Lehigh gave her the opportunity to grow, learn and establish herself as a college coach. On Dec. 30, 2018, McGraw achieved her 900th career win as a coach with a dominant 95-68 Notre Dame victory over Lehigh.
The game was a result of Lehigh’s out-of-region schedule during winter break. McGraw and Baker agreed there was no better way to honor both schools than to play a game around Christmas time.
Despite the loss, Troyan said it was important to her that the team watched the post-game celebration. McGraw’s 900th win was an accomplishment that would go down as a historical moment for herself, and all of women’s basketball.
But Lehigh didn’t originally expect to be a part of the celebration. McGraw said she wanted the Mountain Hawks in the photos, and Lehigh’s decision to celebrate with her after the game’s conclusion was one of the most impressive things she’s experienced in per position.
“I’m thankful for (Troyan) and the team for staying after,” McGraw said. “It shows the classy person she is.”
Senior guard Camryn Buhr, an Indiana native, lives near Notre Dame. She said she loved the campus culture while growing up, and the community itself has significant respect for McGraw.
Buhr was a member of the 2018-2019 Lehigh women’s basketball team that played against McGraw in her 900th career win in front of her home crowd.
“It was a cool experience because I was able to play in front of my friends and family,” Buhr said. “For her to get that win against (us), where she started from, brought it full circle.”
When her coaching career comes to an end, McGraw said she will look to continue advocating for gender equality, with a particular focus on women working in athletics.
“The fight for women is a fight that you have to be willing to rage,” McGraw said. “I will continue the fight for women until my grave. I want to be the voice.”
McGraw strives to instill empowerment within her players and looks to encourage leadership from everyone on the roster.
“I look at her as somebody who has changed women’s basketball,” Troyan said.
And for that, she will go down in history here in the Lehigh Valley.