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The Adventures Of Maggie

A continuing saga

Sunday, January 23, 2005; Page W08

Previously: Catholic University women's basketball coach Maggie Lonergan calls her mother to agonize about her team's lackluster performance: "I can't take losing." To catch up on earlier episodes, go to www.washingtonpost.com/adventures.

Episode 6

Maggie lonergan steps into the gymnasium at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, where the girls' varsity basketball team is warming up. She climbs into the bleachers and scans the dozen or so players practicing their layups. Maggie, who recruited all but two of her current players, has heard that there's a Walter Johnson senior with natural athleticism and a gift for snagging rebounds.

Maggie isn't prepared to give up on this season, but she's already trying to attract talent for next year. (D.A. Peterson)

The Catholic women's team could use some help right now. The Cardinals are still below .500, having lost a road game by three points the other night. After the loss, the players boarded the bus, Maggie says, and started watching a movie and laughing. Maggie stood up and delivered an angry lecture. "I didn't expect it to sound like a morgue," Maggie says. "But when losses don't affect you, that's when you know you're in trouble."

Maggie isn't prepared to give up on this season, but she's already trying to attract talent for next year. This is a challenge, Maggie says, because like most Division III coaches, she can't lure players with athletic scholarships or the glory often associated with high-profile, Division I teams. She pitches Catholic's program as an alternative to sports-obsessed Division I teams.

"If you play Division I," she says, "it's almost like having a job. Here you can play basketball and focus on your education." Plus, Catholic is a terrific school in a terrific city, she says. But it's not an easy sell, especially given Catholic's total cost: $37,000 a year.

Last year, Maggie says, she spent two months recruiting a talented center from an area high school. She went to the player's games, talked to her on the phone, helped her and her parents nail down a financial aid package so she could attend Catholic. Then a Division II team offered the girl a full ride, and Maggie's top recruit disappeared.

Despite those frustrations, Maggie is on the hunt again, at Walter Johnson. Before the end of the first half, Maggie calls one of her assistant coaches to give him a scouting report on the senior, whom she can't publicly identify because of NCAA recruiting rules. "She's pretty good," Maggie tells assistant coach Chris Campbell. "She's tough. She can handle the ball. She's got great timing on the rebounds."

After the game, Maggie spots the player walking toward the exit with her father and springs into action. "I'm Maggie Lonergan, with Catholic University," she says, extending her hand. "You had a fantastic game."

The girl listens with a polite, distracted smile. Her father hears Maggie out but seems eager to get out the door. They've set their sights on an Ivy League school, he tells Maggie, before they make a quick exit. If Maggie is deflated by the brushoff, she doesn't show it. She's going to send the player some information about Catholic. "She'd be perfect for us," Maggie says afterward. "I just have to help the parents see that."

-- Tyler Currie

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