As guard Carl Weaver dribbled out the final seconds of the Notre Dame Academy boys basketball team's 66-62 victory over No. 7 McNamara on Tuesday night, Dragons Coach Larry Cullinane smiled, rolled his head back and exhaled strongly enough to give the gymnasium a cool breeze.
And then it was back to work.
That's about as much time as Cullinane and the Dragons, the school's regional team, will have to relish their victories or ponder their losses this season. Notre Dame's schedule is so packed with top-caliber opponents that the team can ill afford to dwell on any single game.
"We have to be ready every night," said Cullinane, who is in his first year as head coach after assisting Ed Hoffman the past two seasons. "We have a very demanding schedule, by far the most demanding since I've been here."
Tuesday's game at McNamara, a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference team in Forestville, Md., kicked off the season's first brutal stretch for Notre Dame. Tonight, the Dragons (3-1) travel to Richmond to face nationally ranked Mount Zion Christian Academy of Durham, N.C. On Saturday, they have their home opener against Blue Ridge of St. George, Va.
By Dec. 18, Notre Dame will have played seven games--five on the road--in 11 days.
"Man, it's tough. I've never played a schedule like this before," said Notre Dame senior forward David Aliu, who is in his second year with the program after moving from Liverpool, England. "We're not going to get much rest during this stretch, and that's good, because that's what the rest of the season is going to be like for us."
After the new year, the Dragons' schedule includes another date with Mount Zion, St. Patrick's of Elizabeth, N.J., and the 16-team North American Invitational Tournament in Toronto. Depending on their success in tournaments, the Dragons should play about 35 games in a 12-week season.
But they may not all play out like Tuesday's, in which the Dragons erased a 10-point deficit and dominated McNamara in crunch time, hitting clutch jumpers and causing key turnovers. Cullinane knows there will be some low points--perhaps more than his players are used to experiencing.
The schedule "might hurt the way people look at us," he said. "I don't know if we're going to be considered a great team because we're going to have some losses. You're not going to win every game on this schedule."
That's not to say his players have penciled in losses on their schedule.
"We don't believe we're going to lose any time," Notre Dame senior guard Shelton Hawkins said.
Said senior forward Sherrod Teasley: "Coach got us a big-time schedule for a reason--it's going to make us a better team and get us more recognition."
Notre Dame (3-1)--Hawkins 8 2-2 19, Weismiller 7 0-0 18, Aliu 5 6-7 17, Teasley 3 2-2 10, Minyem 1 0-0 2. Totals 24 10-11 66.
McNamara (2-1)--Rich 4 1-2 11, Pigg 1 3-3 5, Bethel 5 2-5 15, Young 11 3-4 26, Thomas 1 1-4 3, Johnson 1 0-0 2. Totals 23 10-18 62.
Halftime: McNamara, 41-35.
Three-point goals: Notre Dame 8 (Weismiller 4, Teasley 2, Aliu 1, Hawkins 1); McNamara 6 (Bethel 3, Rich 2, Young 1).
CAPTION: Sherrod Teasley of Notre Dame goes up for a shot against No. 7 McNamara. Teasley, a senior forward, scored 10 points in his team's victory.