Maroon Madness: Mens basketball team wraps up season in Midwest Sectional finalsArthur Fournier
For the first time in University history, the Chicago Maroons finished their regular season as the top-ranked mens basketball team in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III. The Maroons garnered the No. 1 spot by receiving 16 of 25 first-place votes in the influential d3hoops.com final regular season poll on Wednesday, Feb. 28.
Mens Basketball Head Coach Mike McGrath attributed the Maroons success to the players closeness as teammates. Both on the court and off, this team has been such a strong unit, he said. They really support each other.
College fourth-year and Maroons shooting guard James Waichulis echoed McGrath in his reflections on the season. From my perspective, there really are two keys to our accomplishments, he said.
The first is that a lot of the players on this years team had been through this already. Last year we made a strong showing in the post-season and only a few of our key players were graduating seniors, he continued. The second reason is how close we all are, both in our personal lives and in basketball.
With a 22-win and 3-loss record in regular season play, the Maroons also finished the season as University Athletic Association conference champions, after an 84-70 victory over runners-up Washington University on Saturday, Feb. 24.
As conference champions, the Maroons earned an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Championship and entered the tournament in a second-round game against the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Blugolds at Henry Crown Field House on Saturday, March 3. During the game, College second-year Derek Reich scored 32 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Maroons beat the Blugolds 74-67.
The win advanced the Maroons to the semi-final round of the sectional tournament on Friday, March 9, to play 20th-ranked Lewis and Clark College. College fourth-year Brad Henderson scored 19 points, and Reich finished with 18 as Chicago defeated the visitors 62-52 at Henry Crown Field House.
Moving on to the final round of the Midwest Sectional the following evening, the Maroons challenged the Illinois Wesleyan University Titans in front of a sold-out arena. The Titans, who captured the Division III national championship in 1997, defeated the Maroons 77-68.
The loss disappointed both Chicago players and fans. McGrath commented that the post-game locker room scene was one of the most difficult moments of his coaching career. We were definitely upset at the loss, he explained. But I think what was most difficult to accept was that this was one of our last moments together as a team.
Waichulis shared McGraths disappointment, but commented that the season offered plenty of reasons for the players to take pride. Id be lying if I said it didnt hurt to realize that we werent going to the national playoffs, but I think well each remember this season as highly successful.
In addition to accomplishments shared by the team, strong individual achievements marked the Maroons 2000-01 season as well. Reich broke the Universitys season scoring recordwhich he set with 487 points last seasonwith 565 points during the 2000-01 regular season. He also led the team in rebounding, field-goal percentage and free throws. Reich was named the 2001 University Athletic Association Player of the Year. Having earned the title previously in 2000, he is the third player in UAA history and the first since 1992 to earn the honor in two consecutive years. Waichulis joined Reich as a member of the All-UAA First Team and third-year Tyler Smithson was chosen for the All-Association Second Team. Three other players, fourth-year Mike Agema, third-year Jon Poyer and Henderson were noted as honorable mention All-UAA picks.
McGrath and Waichulis also agreed that prospects for next season provide reason to be optimistic. Weve gained an incredible amount of experience over the past few seasons and there are some great players who will be back, said McGrath.
Although it will be different, my sense is that next years team will be as close as this one has been, he commented. Its just part of a tradition with these guys, and thats part of what makes coaching at Chicago such a unique experience.