By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – Today is the 10th anniversary of the greatest achievement in Catholic University sports history. On Saturday March 17, 2001, in Salem, Va., the Cardinal men's basketball team defeated William Paterson University, 76-62, to win the school's only team National Championship.
With an Irish coach and a host of Irish players, including one Patrick Maloney, was there really ever any doubt that CUA would prevail on St. Patrick's Day? Actually, there was a lot of doubt and it wasn't eased until less than two minutes left to play. A parade of successful free throws followed and the celebration began.
"St. Patrick's Day is a wonderful day for me because I always reflect back on that amazing day in Salem, Virginia, where we won the National Championship," said Mike Lonergan, the coach who delivered the grand prize to his alma mater. "I can't believe it's been 10 years. The team picture hangs right on the wall next to my desk, and I look at those players, coaches and support staff every day and thank God that I was a part of that team."
Lonergan coached the Cardinals for three more years and, after a season under Gary Williams at the University of Maryland, became head coach at the University of Vermont in 2005. Lonergan has guided the Catamounts to three America East Conference regular-season championships and four postseason appearances. Vermont captured the 2010 America East championship and qualified for the NCAA Tournament. His star player, Marqus Blakely, won last year's college slam dunk contest and now plays professionally for the Iowa Energy.
Lonergan still recalls with fondness his national title team, which returned to a hero's welcome on campus the next day. Nearly every Washington TV station, a host of fans and numerous students were there to greet the Cardinals.
"That was a special group of young men and their accomplishments have allowed me to live a blessed life," Lonergan said. "Words can't explain how great a team that was in every sense of the word. When we say 'The Catholic University Basketball Family,' it really was, and is, a family."
Lonergan's successor, Steve Howes, has built upon Lonergan's standard of greatness. He just led the Cards to their 11th 20-win season over the past 14 years. His teams have appeared in the postseason six times in seven seasons, won two conference championships and advanced to two NCAA Tournaments. He recruited many of the players who formed the nucleus of the title-winning team.
"It's hard to believe it's been 10 years since that special day in Salem," Howes said. "We still talk about that in the program today. The National Championship banner is one of the first things recruits see – and we see – every day we walk in the gym. So the standard of excellence is ever present.
"It's certainly an honor to coach at a place where we reached the mountaintop, and each day we come to the gym we're reminded of what we're working towards again. Winning a national title is a remarkable achievement."
To read the game story from CUA's victory over William Paterson, click here.
For more of a retrospective look at the game and the 100-year history of Cardinal basketball, see this article.
Check out this video tribute of CUA's basketball centennial.
Chris McManes was the Cardinals' sports information director when they won the 2001 National Championship.