Season's end 'heartbreaking' for College of Notre Dame

Basketball team was down to 6 healthy players

November 25, 2009|By Mike Klingaman | mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

The College of Notre Dame basketball team - or what was left of it - got the news at practice Monday: Its season had been canceled because of a shortage of healthy players.

The announcement by athletic director Michael Spinner "broke my heart," said Heather Krolicki, a senior guard. "The six of us who were there just sat in silence. Then I started to cry.

"I mean, I understand why we can't play, and I agree with it. But it's still heartbreaking."

School officials scrapped the Gators' season after one game - a 73-19 loss to Goucher last Wednesday - because of injuries to nearly half the team. Five of the 11 players on the roster, including Krolicki (torn knee cartilage), are sidelined indefinitely, leaving six to shoulder the load of a 25-game season.

Those low numbers made practice, much less games, difficult, Spinner said.

"Any decision other than to cancel the season would be putting those remaining players at risk," he said.

"No one is happy about it, and we don't make this choice lightly. But to keep playing, and have injured players rushed back into the lineup before they're ready, would be an unconscionable and irresponsible decision."

Since the school began playing basketball in 1989, the Gators have gone 235-256.

Basketball was the buzz on campus Tuesday, said Krolicki, a starter who had played at Patapsco.

"People are upset. They're disappointed," she said. "We held 'Midnight Madness' for the first time last month, and now this?

"It's tough when you work hard for something and then just see it go away."

Two Notre Dame players were lost against Goucher, a one-sided defeat in which the Gators shot13 percent from the field and went 12 minutes without scoring. One player was hospitalized with respiratory problems. The other suffered a concussion.

"It was just one injury on top of another, on top of another," said Rob Long, the Notre Dame coach, who announced his resignation Monday. Long had told school officials several months ago that this season - his fourth - would be his last.

Long leaves with a 33-43 record, having led the small, all-female Catholic college on North Charles Street to an 18-7 record and the NCAA Division III tournament in 2007. The Gators lost there in the first round.

Long said he resigned "to pursue other options" but conceded that his aggressive philosophy didn't jibe with the college's.

"Notre Dame is a good place, but not a good place for me," he said. "I wanted to be a legitimate and competitive D-III program - and I'm not sure if they agree with that."

Long said he was "hamstrung in recruiting" and that, after a number of his players flunked off the team last year, he was told to search out women focused on the classroom as much as the court.

Spinner said only that "I respect Rob's desire to win, and to win right now. But clearly there was a disconnect here, and it put great stress on our basketball program."

Last year, academics claimed seven of the team's 15 players at midseason, after which Notre Dame lost 10 in a row to finish 9-16.

Spinner was hired last summer to try to right the program.

"Winning is not the primary goal - it's the byproduct of doing everything the right way," he said.

The athletic department also brought in a recruiting specialist, Kirsten Russell, in efforts to boost interest in basketball and other sparsely populated sports teams, which draw from a pool of 550 full-time students.

On Monday, Russell was named interim basketball coach to lead workouts and drills for the remaining team members. Notre Dame will begin a search for a new head coach in February, Spinner said.

The team's diminished numbers can only help in recruiting, Russell said.

"Many girls out there will be real excited about the idea of being an impact player right away," she said.

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