For most, Bishop Ireton’s pronouncement to the area came in last year’s Washington Catholic Athletic Conference playoffs, when the Cardinals knocked off Gonzaga in the first round, becoming the first eight seed to ever beat the No. 1 team.
But for the four seniors who joined Ireton the year before, that victory, along with the Cardinals’ competitive rise this season, was simply a manifestation of the inevitable.
“All the other times we had played Gonzaga, I had thought ‘Here we go again,’” senior Patrick Moseh said. “But that morning, I knew we had what it took. Knocking off Gonzaga wasn’t a fluke. It started when me and our three other seniors came in as sophomores and the Gonzaga win was a bridge to bring us to what we’re doing this year.”
What the Cardinals are doing is holding their own against the WCAC’s perennial powers while again gaining steam as the WCAC tournament approaches. In the last week, Bishop Ireton has lost to No. 2 Paul VI, No. 5 O’Connell and No. 10 DeMatha by a combined nine points.
Though the players and Coach Neil Berkman know that there are no moral victories, they can take some pride in witnessing their rise from the WCAC’s cellar.
“The first step for me when I came in five years ago was to become relevant,” Berkman said. “We didn’t want to be the same old Ireton where teams sat their best players against us. That’s a slap in the face. We wanted to change the perception and culture, and that starts with five players playing as one.”
Moseh, a Wheeling Jesuit recruit, stands as one of the area’s best offensive rebounders while Quarles uses his athleticism to create plays for the Cardinals. Meantime, Senft (an Army recruit) has the length to alter a number of shots around the rim and Noe (Navy) shows explosive scoring ability while leading the team with 15.2 points per game.
When Senft went down with a broken foot last year, Noe moved to the starting center position and helped lead the Cardinals to their first winning record in at least 13 years. And when starting point guard Taylor McHugh transferred before this season, Noe again adjusted by becoming the primary ball handler for the 13-8 Cardinals.
“I’m more of a swingman, but I worked all summer on my ballhandling skills and learning how to run the offense to do whatever I could to help the team,” Noe said. “Playing different positions has helped me grow as a player, and we’ve all stepped up in different ways for the good of the team.”
With road games against top-ranked St. John’s and Gonzaga on tap this week, the Cardinals hope to see continued improvement from the underclassmen surrounding their senior quartet as they aim to turn their handful of close losses into another upset.
“It’s definitely frustrating at times to be so close and not win these games, but we have to keep a level head about it,” Moseh said. “Everybody is surprised because of how the old Ireton used to be, but we know we can compete, and last year’s upset was no fluke.
“There’s no such thing as moral victories, but we know we’re a dangerous team that a lot of teams aren’t going to want to play in the tournament.”