Rene Portland, 'Mighty Macs' star and former Penn State coach, dies at 65: players, teammates react

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Rene Portland coached the Penn State women’s basketball team for 27 years, resigning in 2007.

Rene Portland, the former Penn State women’s basketball coach who built the Lady Lions into a national powerhouse in her 27 years in Happy Valley, died on Sunday morning after a three-year battle with cancer. She was 65.

Portland grew up in Broomall, Delaware County, and was also one of the key players in the Immaculata “Mighty Macs” championship era of the 1970s under Hall of Famer Cathy Rush.

Read her full obituary here.

A handful of former teammates and contemporaries shared their thoughts on Portland’s passing. Read more reaction here.

Theresa Grentz, Immaculata teammate:

“Rene always had that can-do attitude, and her steadfast love for her family will always be one of her greatest hallmarks. She fought a courageous battle with cancer and my heart breaks for the loss of my friend. Without question, she will be missed.”

Marianne Stanley, Immaculata teammate:

“Rene will always be remembered as a pioneer and a staunch advocate for promoting for our game. As one of the original Immaculata Mighty Macs, she was a great teammate and known as a fierce competitor. She displayed that fighting spirit every day in her battle with cancer. Most importantly, Rene was a devoted wife & mother who will be greatly missed by her family and friends.”

Nancy Lieberman, contemporary of Portland’s and former WNBA and NBA coach:

“Rene has always been a great teacher of the game and winner. She forced you to be at your best.”

Suzie McConnell-Serio, former Penn State player, two-time Olympian and WNBA all-star:

“This is a very sad day and my condolences to the Portland family.  We all lost someone very special today. Rene has touched so many lives and I am especially thankful for all she has done for me.  She was an amazing mother, person and coach. Once a Lady Lion, Always a Lady Lion and Rene always made you proud to be a Lady Lion.”

Jay Paterno, son of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno:

Portland was the only hire made by Joe Paterno while he served as interim athletic director. His son, Jay, shared his thoughts on Twitter.

Judy (Marra) Martelli, former Immaculata teammate and wife of St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli:

“For the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about her every day. A lot of things have been going through my mind about our lives together and what we went through.

“We first met in 1967 in Villa Maria Academy and just became close friends from day one and we had a lot in common, we played sports together, went to high school together and then Immaculata — a lot of great memories were made there to share.

“And then we were both at each other’s weddings, and we shared as family at such an important time of your life from your teenage years — 13 to 23, when we got married — and to share them with one of my very, very best friends.

“I feel fortunate that way. And then obviously life takes you on different paths, your careers, your marriage, your children, and we kind of lost touch a little bit in some ways.

“And then reaching out when she moved back from Indiana, and we had good talks, we had a great, great visit a couple of months ago, we talked about everything you could think of, life, death, children, family, parents, all the great times we had together, so I’m glad she’s not suffering, but it’s hard.

“I have all the wonderful memories I had with her and that’s what I take forward.”

Sandy Barbour, Penn State athletic director:

“The Penn State Athletics family extends our deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Coach Portland. She made a significant impact on women’s basketball, Penn State Athletics and the State College and Lady Lion Basketball communities.”

Read more reaction on Portland’s death here.