Andrew Koob (@AndrewKoob)
(Ed Note: With the 2012-13 season rapidly approaching, the CoBL staff will be all over the southeastern part of the state, previewing schools from D-III up through D-I. Andrew Koob files this report about the 2012 national runner-up Cabrini Cavaliers)
For the Cabrini Cavaliers, last year was a great ride that ended in heartbreak.
Against Wisconsin-Whitewater in the Division III NCAA Championship, the Cavaliers fell to the Warhawks 63-60; Cabrini led 47-29 early in the first half and pulled to within a point with less than a minute to play.
This season, Cabrini plans to use that pit in their stomach to their advantage on the road back to finish what they couldn’t last year.
“It really left a chip on our shoulders when we lost that game,” senior point guard A.J. Williams said. “We were so close and it was in reach, so it’s our goal to get back there this year and hopefully we won’t let anybody down this year.”
“It was a great experience getting that far, but just knowing we let it slip away, it’s bothered me all summer,” added junior forward Fran Rafferty. “Everywhere you go, people are saying, ‘Aw, you had it’. It irks me, but it’s motivation to use.
“We’ve been there, we can get back there and we know what it takes to get back there.”
It was a great season for the Cavaliers, as they rolled through their regular season schedule and the NCAA Tournament on their way to the championship game, compiling a 31-1 record before that final loss.
“Last year was a great year for us,” head coach Marcus Kahn said. “To be able to make a run like that, I think we did a good job throughout the season, we upped our non-conference schedule and the guys did a good job of handling a tougher schedule throughout the season. We had some additions to our roster mid-season that really gave us a boost down the stretch that added depth to our lineup, which I think made a big difference in February and March. We seemed to be rested in every game because we were playing 10 or 12 guys a night. We were never really bothered by foul trouble until the championship game.
“Unfortunately we came up a little short in the championship game, but if there’s a silver lining to that is we’re still hungry and ready to keep working.”
Cabrini will have to make the long journey back to the championship game without recently-graduated point guard Cory Lemons, who averaged 17.2 ppg (on 47.2 percent shooting) and 6.4 apg and was seen as a leader on and off the court for the Cavaliers.
“Cory was a big part of how we got to where we were,” Kahn said. “I don’t want to say he was the only reason, it takes a whole team, but if I had to pick one person over my four years here that’s really taken this program to the next level, I’d say it’s him. He’s one of the best players to ever come through, if not the best to ever play here at Cabrini and I’d say he was probably the best guard in the country last year.
“He’ll be a big loss. We’ll really miss him, even more in the locker room than on the floor. He was a very good leader off the court and in the locker room, that kind of stuff nobody really sees day to day. He really kept our team grounded and helped us move in the right direction.”
Williams, who will be tasked with stepping in to replace the All-American, feels as though the experience that the Cavaliers return will help Cabrini get back to finish what they started.
“It’s going to be tough losing Cory Lemons,” Williams said. “He was an All-American, he was the leader on and off the court, but I think we’ve got a good group of experienced guys coming back. I’m looking forward to playing the point this year, I’m coming in with three years of experience as a combo guard, so I’m capable of running the point. With our experience coming back, we’re going to be able to make up for his loss in many different ways.”
Along with Williams and Rafferty, sophomore shooting guard Jon Miller, senior forward Jeremy Knowles and senior center Goran Dulac round out the Cavalier starting five.
Any climb back to the championship game will always be a struggle, but Kahn believes that the chemistry that the team built on last year’s run, coupled with the talent and the leadership, will hopefully propel them for a second shot to take the Division III crown.
“I think to get back there, it’s going to take a little bit of luck again, some good chemistry, I really like where we’re at talent-wise, but I think what got us there last year was the great chemistry, the good leadership,” Kahn said. “The guys bought in to we were doing and we got hot at the right time. If we can build off of last year, I think mentally we’ll be prepared to make another run. We’re going to have to play really hard, play together and play with no ego, don’t worry about who’s doing what.”
Slider photo credit Philly.com