Previously: Catholic University basketball coach Maggie Lonergan delivers an angry lecture to the women on her team after they lose another game and fail to display enough angst. To catch up on earlier episodes, go to www.washingtonpost.com/adventures.
Maggie Lonergan was getting ready to drop the hammer. With her team still below .500, the time had come for painful action.
(Photo by D.A. Peterson)
"Nobody's starting position is secure," the 32-year-old Catholic University coach warned her players one day after practice. Somebody was going to get benched. Maggie just hadn't decided who it was going to be.
On one level, Maggie was making a routine adjustment. "I always play my five best players," she says. But Maggie's announcement also had an element of shock therapy. She was intentionally putting the players on edge, trying to jolt them into being more competitive. In short, into being a little more like her.
Maggie knew that this strategy could backfire. When Maggie was a point guard at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md., her coach would pit players against one another. "At practices, it was practically war," Maggie says. "There was a lot of animosity" among players clawing for a spot in the starting lineup. Maggie lost her position as a starter several times, once to someone younger. "That hit me really hard," she remembers.
As a coach, Maggie says, she tries to foster "competition among my players, but to a healthy extent." She also knows that benching a player can have unintended consequences. Early last season, she pulled Jane Maybury, a 6-foot forward, from the starting lineup. After that, Maggie says, Maybury seemed to lose her thirst for the game. "She wasn't ever really the same." Maybury, however, says she wasn't upset. "I wasn't expecting to start at all. [Being benched] didn't really affect me at all."
Now Maggie stood at the sideline, watching her team set plays. Suddenly a buzzer whined, and Maggie announced that for the remainder of practice there would be a scrimmage: the starting players versus the bench players.
It was, the players knew, the moment they would learn whether their coach was going to make good on her threat to bench someone. Maggie rattled off the names of the starters: Maria, Haley, Jackie, Lindsay and Shannon. There it was. Shannon Mertz, a 5-foot-9 sophomore, had replaced Jane Maybury at forward. After starting every game of the season, Maybury had lost her slot, again.
If Maybury was devastated, she didn't show it outwardly. Instead she headed back onto the court and impressed Maggie by playing harder than ever.
After practice, Maybury seemed more mournful than infuriated by her demotion. "It came as a bit of a shock," the junior said. "I just haven't been playing that well lately."
The next night, Maybury played just nine minutes in a thrilling, come-from-behind victory over Susquehanna University. With the clock ticking down in the final quarter, the Cardinals took the lead on a layup by first-time starter Shannon Mertz.
Maggie's shake-up had had the desired effect: Her team was finally at .500.
-- Tyler Currie