- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

Months after his team cut down the nets in Salem, Va., as champion of the NCAA Division III basketball tournament last March, Catholic University coach Mike Lonergan was still basking in the increased attention that comes with winning a national title: coach of the year awards, speaking engagements, congratulations from peers and friends.
This wasn't a case of Lonergan dwelling on the Cardinals' success. His reaction was understandable considering Catholic's improbable jaunt through the tournament. The team won four games by five or fewer points before rolling over William Paterson in the final.
"[The feeling] really stayed a long time longer than I thought," Lonergan said.
And now, after losing five seniors (three of them starters), there are the obvious questions: What does Catholic do for an encore? The Cardinals, ranked No. 5 in the preseason by D3hoops.com, will undoubtedly have a bull's-eye on their backs. How will they deal with the pressure of defending their title?
"The pressure is there," Lonergan conceded. "But I like it that way it makes it harder."
Lonergan and the Cardinals won't have to look far to encounter new challenges. The team lost its starting backcourt to graduation, a group not easily replaced. Shooting guard Pat Maloney, the leading scorer, and tenacious defenders Andy Rice and Tim Judge are gone, meaning this year's team has no seniors.
That leaves inexperienced guards to complement center Matt Hilleary, a junior, and sophomore power forward Will Morley, the team's two leading returning scorers at 12.5 and 10.7 points, respectively. Catholic is sure to rely on the 6-6 Hilleary, who was recruited by several Division I schools out of high school including Richmond, and the 6-4 Morley until their green guards projected starters Bobby Henning, a freshman, Kevin Wise and Craig Avallone become seasoned.
"Me and Matt are definitely ready," Morley said. "We've both started talking about it we're both up to the challenge."
The Cardinals, who finished 28-5 last season, won't have some of the main cogs that led them to the title, but they hope that some of their leadership qualities rubbed off. Catholic didn't have the best athletes, but the team had resilience and moxie and nearly always found ways to win games, especially at the end of the season.
Lonergan, entering his 10th season at his alma mater, wants to adhere to a similar plan this season; he's not too worried about how the team fares early in the season, but wants it to hit its stride in February as the postseason approaches. Last season the Cardinals didn't lose after Jan. 24, winning 16 in a row.
"[Winning] is a mentality you get when you get here," Hilleary said. "Losing isn't tolerated here."
For the Cardinals, their 2000-01 national title won't fade quickly from memory. They'll be reminded Monday when they play an exhibition against the Harlem Globetrotters, who picked up former pros Oliver Miller and Chris Morris for recent exhibitions. The Globetrotters wanted to play last season's national champions from all three divisions during their college preseason tour, so Catholic will go against some serious talent. It will be a celebratory night nonetheless, as the team will raise a banner to commemorate its championship, the university's first NCAA title in any sport.
"I'll never forget [the championship], and I wouldn't want to forget it," said Lonergan, whose wife, Maggie, was hired to coach Catholic's women's team in July. "As hard as it is to get on top, it's harder to stay on top."


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