Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cardinal Stritch University Wolves Win the 2013 NAIA Division II National Championship

The 2013 NAIA Division II National Championship Game in Point Lookout, MO pitted the 2nd ranked Cardinal Stritch Wolves against the 1st ranked William Penn University Statesmen.  The Wolves and Statesmen were riding quite a pair of winnings streaks en route to the championship game.

The Wolves won 14 straight to make their first NAIA Division II National Championship Game appearance.  The Wolves last loss came at home to Saint Xavier University on January 19th.  Since then the Wolves reeled off 14 straight wins, including a win over Saint Xavier University in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Championship game, to improve their record to 34-3.

A record of 34-3 seems almost impossible to match until you look at the Statemen's record heading into the championship game.  The Statesmen were riding a 20 game winning streak with their only loss of the season coming on the road to Bellevue on December 7th.  That meant the Statesmen took a 34-1 record into the championship game.

You might ask why I would cover the NAIA Division II National Championship Game in this this space.  Cardinal Stritch holds a very special place in my heart for a number of reasons.  One, Mama Cheese (my Mom) has worked tirelessly in a number of roles for Cardinal Stritch throughout her professional career and is currently Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.

I have a million fond memories of visiting Stritch as a kid, with some of the most memorable being basketball related.  The Milwaukee Bucks practiced at Cardinal Stritch when the Padre Sierra forced them out of their regular practice facilities at the Cousins Center.  I remember watching Big Dog and Todd Day knock down jumpers on what is now known as Pinella Court, which was named after the long time former Stritch women's basketball coach in 2010 shortly after he was diagnosed .with ALS.

If that isn't enough of a reason, the former President and current Chancellor of Cardinal Stritch, Sister Camille Kliebhan, is one of my favorite people in the world.  Sister Camille is a regular at all family events with a martini in hand (yes, you read that correctly).

Back to the game.  My buddy Gaber, who currently works for Cardinal Stritch, texted me midway through the second half to give me the heads up that the Wolves were playing on the CBS Sports Network.  Luckily I tuned in time to see the Wolves defeat the Statesmen by a score of 73-59 to notch their first NAIA Division II National Championship.

Kudos to Tony Smit (played the most minutes this season), Derek Semenas (lead the team in scoring this season), Darren Moore (lead the team in rebounding this season), Nick Ford (lead the team in assists this season), and all the other players on roster on winning the 2013 NAIA Division II National Championship.

The Wolves were lead by head coach Drew Diener, who is in his 4th season at the helm.  There were two other very notable members of Diener's staff that helped immensely: assistant coach Dick Diener and manager Tyler Stacey.

Dick was one of the most successful high school basketball coaches in Wisconsin in the last 25 years and is also the father of head coach Drew.  About a month ago Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote a great story on Stacey.  Although Stacey is forced to get around mostly via a scooter because he has spastic cerebral palsy that does not prevent him from carrying out a multitude of roles for the team while also serving as their inspirational leader.

Congrats to everyone associated with the 2012-13 Cardinal Stritch University men's basketball team on putting together arguably the most impressive season of any team in school history.

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