She went up against Tara VanDerveer, scrimmaged against Pat Summitt and was thrown out of Bobby Knight’s practice back in the day, but for E.O. Smith girls basketball coach Mary Roickle, “That was a lifetime ago.”

Bobby Knight once insulted her and threw her out of one of his closed practices. Ironically, Dick Vitale once called her the “Bobby Knight of women’s basketball.”

Her team beat Tara VanDerveer’s team when VanDerveer coached at Ohio State. She scrimmaged against Pat Summitt’s Tennessee team (and lost).

Frank Layden, who would go on to coach the Utah Jazz, hired her as a second choice after she was rejected by him initially for her first coaching job and became a mentor to her.

It’s funny where life has taken Mary Roickle, who now lives in Columbia and has been the girls basketball coach at E.O. Smith for 10 years. Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena, her No. 3-seeded team will take on top-seeded Pomperaug for the Class L state championship, her first trip to the high school state finals.

She left coaching basketball, even though she loved it, stayed away for 30 years when she worked in a variety of positions in the pharmaceutical industry, and then she came back.

“Things happen for a reason,” said Roickle, 69. “So many things have happened and you think, there are downsides or negatives, but oh my God, the silver linings …”

There was no girls basketball or any girls sports at her high school in upstate New York in the early 1970s. Roickle was a swimmer who could be found shooting baskets in the gym after swim practice. She graduated in 1971 and went to Niagara, where she and her roommate started a basketball team called the “Purple Princesses.”

Their first official season was 1974-75. Roickle graduated in 1976 with a degree in nursing and the next year she was hired by Layden, the athletic director and men’s coach at Niagara who had lamented earlier that she and her roommate were trying to “ruin” his men’s basketball program by starting a women’s team.

Layden’s initial choice got the job at Notre Dame and left; he called Roickle, who went 84-19 in four years and ended up in the school’s Hall of Fame. She brought the team to the AIAW Division II Final Four where it advanced to the championship game and lost.

“We were in South Dakota someplace -16 teams in a Notel Motel in South Dakota with my mom and dad,” she said, laughing.

Roickle then moved onto Division I University of Detroit, where she went 46-20 in three years, beating third-ranked Kansas, which had All-American Lynette Woodard, and No. 9 N.C. State in her first season. She played Ohio State and Tennessee. She met Vitale, who had coached at the University of Detroit.

Before a game against Indiana, she snuck into one of Knights’ closed practices and sat in the top row of the arena before somebody spotted her and told her to come down to the court.

“Knight comes up to me and he says, ‘I’m so sick and tired of women’s basketball,’” Roickle said. “I looked at him and I said, ‘Why don’t you stay for the game and you figure it out for yourself?’ He stayed for a half and nodded at me when he left, because we were kicking their butt.”

Two years later, Knight was a guest speaker at the University of Detroit at a booster club event. He introduced himself to Roickle’s parents and was complimentary of her coaching abilities.

In 1981, after five years of coaching, Roickle had the third-highest winning percentage (.805, 107-26) among active coaches, just behind UCLA’s Billie Moore and ahead of Summitt, Yow, Auburn’s Joe Ciampi, Rutgers’ Theresa Grentz and Maryland’s Chris Weller.

But Roickle walked away from it all, for personal reasons. She said in 2015: “I loved my kids. Something happened to me that I couldn’t handle. I was 28 years old, and I was all alone. I had every intention of always going back to basketball. I was going to take a year or two off.”

Thirty years later, she was back to coaching, after moving to the area with her spouse Muffy. She had worked all those years; they had raised their adopted daughter. Roickle was semi-retired and looking for something else to do. So she took the Manchester Community College job. After a year, it became apparent the sports programs were going to be dropped so she left.

Kirk Murad left E.O. Smith a year after the Panthers went to the state finals the last time in 2012.

Roickle applied for the job. And now they’re back at Mohegan Sun. They were close last season, losing by a point to Newington in the semifinals.

“Over a 10-year period of time, I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of a high school community, in particular, E.O. Smith,” Roickle said. “It has brought great joy to me and my family to be back in coaching and to be having so much fun with these young ladies – this year, especially.”