Koenig's the glue that holds the Cardinals together
It's no secret that the CUA men's basketball team won its first Landmark Conference championship this past weekend with a thrilling victory over Juniata. However, what may not be as widely known is what, and more importantly, who is behind the scenes working hard at every practice and every game to get better individually and making it his mission to unite the team and put them in the right direction towards success.
Going into his senior year season, Nate Koenig, as well as the other seniors, decided that they wanted to make their final year wearing a Cardinals jersey matter. "We wanted to bring the program to a place that we could leave behind and be proud of," Koenig says.
When Nate was looking at colleges after graduating from Bethesda Chevy Chase High School, he knew he wanted to go somewhere close to home. However, whether or not he would be playing basketball was completely up in the air.
Ultimately, Nate decided to come to Catholic and play. His first two years at CUA he didn't see much playing time at all. The amount of time he plays now has shifted greatly and in this current season Nate starts every game. He also has reached career highs in almost every statistical category. "Every game I play I am constantly aware that anything I do affects the team as a whole and we can't achieve anything without knowing that," Koenig says.
Working together as a team and building a close relationship with his teammates is something Nate has always made his top priority. Sophomore Steve Limberiou can remember that during his freshman year, Nate was the teammate who made him feel like he belonged and he has seen that translate into this year as well.
"I think this year's team has a lot better chemistry than past years," Limberiou says. "The seniors have done a really good job making the underclassman feel welcome and that has translated to a lot of success for the team."
Welcoming the underclassmen and making everyone feel like they belong is only the beginning of what Nate brings to the team. Limberiou recognized his improvement in just about all of the statistical categories, but besides the improvement on the court, he recognizes the important role Nate plays. "More so than the statistics, it's the leadership factor," Limberiou says. "He's really done a good job uniting the team aspect in all of us."
His teammates are not the only ones recognizing his leadership and his ability to unite the team. "Nate is the glue to our team, he keeps us together and focused," says head coach Steve Howes.
The Cardinals' coach has seen Nate develop and grow as a player and only improve from year to year. "He truly has optimized the player development that we stress so much in the program," Howes says.
In terms of statistics leaders on the team, Nate is in the top percentage for most of the categories, such as field goal shooting, 3-point shooting, and minutes played, but he is number one in defensive rebounds and free throw percentage.
Coach Howes can recall several games where Nate was not necessarily the leading offensive player, but without his defensive efforts, the team would not have been able to beat their opponent. "Instead of worrying about making shots and bringing up his stats, he is only worrying about getting better each day he plays."
Limberiou is well aware that losing a player like Nate will bleave a huge void because of what he brings on and off the court that the team's success is largely dependent upon.
As for the future, Nate is not set on one specific job, but he does know what he enjoys to do. "I work with children with special needs and I really enjoy it. I hope I am given the opportunity to continue to work in that area after graduation."
Upon graduation, Koenig will be leaving CUA where he has made so many friendships and memories both on campus and on the court. Being so close to home, Nate won't have to worry too much about never seeing his friends again because they will eventually all come back to D.C. at some point, whether it's for work or just to see each other. "Waking up and going to class, being a student, that is the number one thing I'm going to miss about being at CUA," says Koenig.
CUA men's basketball and their defensive senior leader Koenig will be playing in their first NCAA Tournament together, beginning this Saturday when the Cards host The College of Staten Island at 7:30 p.m.
Koenig, who was unsure if he would even be playing basketball in college, will graduate and leave behind a legacy for all basketball players to come through the program, whether they are the best statistically or the best leader out there, because he has successfully combined both.
With their conference championship now firmly in place, Koenig and the rest of the seniors have something they can all individually take away from their last year as Cardinals, as well as something they have achieved with the entire team, accomplishing their goal of leaving the program in a place they can be proud of.
Story written by Vanessa Clifford, Office of Athletic Communications