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The Adventures of Maggie

A continuing saga

Sunday, January 2, 2005; Page W06

Our story so far: Catholic University women's basketball coach Maggie Lonergan can't sleep after her teams loses badly to Scranton University. To catch up on earlier episodes, go to www.washingtonpost.com/adventures.


Maggie Lonergan slides a cassette into one of the two VCRs in her cramped office, which is jammed with children's toys, paperwork and video equipment. She turns on the television, leaning forward for a better view of the grainy basketball players, one of whom keeps nailing three-pointers. It's scouting footage of tomorrow's opponent, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

(Photo by D.A. Peterson)

After only a few minutes of viewing the film, Maggie issues a grim pronouncement: "These guys are pretty good."

What's less clear, however, is the quality of Maggie's own team. The Cardinals have lost three of their past four games, and their low-post performance under the basket has been abysmal. Gloria Schnepp, a starting forward, has just apprised Maggie of knee and gluteus injuries. "My whole left side feels like it needs to be refrigerated," says Schnepp, who doesn't think she'll be suiting up for tomorrow's game.

Maggie won't push her, though she isn't sure Catholic can win without Schnepp on the court. "I was hoping she'd give it a shot," Maggie says. On the other hand, "I don't want her causing any long-term damage" to her knee.

At practice that night, Maggie assumes a veneer of tough determination for the benefit of her players. "Two more [games] to get above .500," she tells them. But in private, she's consumed by doubt. "I don't know," she says glumly. "We're just not playing well."

Earlier in the week, she'd called her mother, Jean Meagher, who lives in northeastern Pennsylvania but attends most of Catholic's games, and told her: "I'm not used to this. I can't take losing."

For many collegiate coaches, losing records are preludes to pink slips, though Maggie doesn't think her job is on the line. For her, the pressure to win is internal and unrelenting. "Of course the administration wants us to win . . . but as long as I'm teaching the girls to play good basketball, and they behave, and their grades are good, then I think I'm okay," she says. Someday, she'd like to coach a Division I program, but not right now. It would be impossible with her two young children, she says.

The next night, at Catholic University's DuFour Center, Schnepp is wearing flip-flops and sitting on the bench, while the team from Richard Stockton College, looking bigger and more athletic, easily wins the tipoff. It's all bad news from there -- for Richard Stockton, that is. At the half, Catholic is leading by 12 points. Maggie, however, isn't ready to recognize her team's strong play. "Number 44 is absolutely killing us on offensive rebounds," Maggie shouts at the break. During the second half, even as Catholic extends its lead, Maggie's tone doesn't soften. "Dumb! Dumb!" she yells at her two assistant coaches after a turnover.

Catholic wins by 23. Disheveled, sweaty, bruised and grinning, the players sit around their 32-year-old coach in the team room after the game. "We are now back on the path," Maggie says. "But we're not there yet."

-- Tyler Currie

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