BY MITCHELL NORTHAM
Q: Two CAC titles in the same day is a big deal. What was you initial reaction when the women won their title?
A: We were thrilled to be able to host not only one, but two championship games. That was not only exciting for our men and women’s basketball teams but for our student body, our faculty and our athletics department. You go into those games knowing that they’re big games and that the other team is there for a reason as well and you hope to be able to win one, if not both. So of course, I was thrilled as I think our campus community was that we were able to get that first title after an excruciating two overtime periods. It was just a battle. It was gratifying and satisfying on many fronts to be able to come out and win any game like that, let alone a conference championship game.
Q: I saw you on the floor when the students rushed the court. What was that atmosphere like?
A: Well, we had anticipated that might happen if there was an exciting game and to be honest with you it had nothing to do with what’s going on in the national media with what’s happening at Kansas State and those things – in fact I was really oblivious to that. But we had an administrative meeting the day before and we talked about those possibilities and the mindset in that – and personally I am not opposed to rushing the court, I think that it’s a cool collegiate thing – the important thing though is that it’s truly a celebration for the victorious team and has nothing to do with the opponent. Because they’re going to be lower than low, so our mindset was as administrators was to get out on the floor and to make sure that Christopher Newport was able to get to their bench and I personally positioned myself between the bench and where the celebration was. I was pleased that it was a great post-game celebration and it was about us and it was very positive crowd. There were no instances that we had to be concerned about and I applaud our student body for how they conducted themselves.
Q: Coach Merkel gathered the team after the celebration to go shake hands with Christopher Newport. How important was that?
A: There’s a fine balance there. You want to be able to celebrate and I thought Coach Merkel did an outstanding job of handling that. It was a spontaneous celebration and it’s not something you orchestrate so you want to be able to enjoy that moment, but there comes a point in time where you don’t have your opponent sit there and watch that. You gather your team and do that appropriate handshake with good sportsmanship. Coach Merkel and his staff did an excellent job of that.
Q: The baseball, football and volleyball teams were there supporting the basketball teams on Saturday, but men’s lacrosse has kind of, led the way in supporting other teams here. How important is that for athletes to support other athletes here?
A: I think it’s good for whether it’s each varsity team supporting one another or just students in general supporting other programs. I’ve seen where we have had a student athlete in a play and there are 20 football players in the front row. Now it’s not a rah-rah type of thing with a play but they are there supporting. I will say that I thought Saturday’s crowd was one of the best behaved that I have seen. I think it’s great when you have large and enthusiastic crowd and I think it’s important that they are positive.
Q: There were a few local high school basketball coaches who brought their players out to the games on Saturday. Is that something you want to see more of?
A: I think that they have done a good job of that. I have seen (Wicomico high head coach) Butch Waller at a number of games and I’ve seen some of the local coaches throughout the season and in the past. This was a big game so a few more people showed up and that’s the way it is. We were fortunate on the men’s side to have large crowds like that a few times in the 90’s and in the 2000’s on the women’s side. So, you know, people can talk about marketing and things like that, but when you win games, people will show up.
Q: It’s been sometime since both basketball programs have been this successful at the same time. Do you think that both of these coaches have the programs headed in the right direction?
A: Clearly, I mean, both head coaches are in their fourth season I don’t think that in my 26 seasons here that we have had both teams in the NCAA tournament at the same time – except for the in the 95-96 season. Both coaches have worked very hard to reach this level of success and it’s pleasing to see their hard work pay off.
Q: What were the games like in the 90’s?
A: On the men’s side it was very similar to what you saw on Saturday. It was all about Salisbury and there was a lot of positive cheering, but there was way more people. I mean, we had to lock down Maggs. It was about 800 more people that what you saw on Saturday for some of the games in 91-92 and in 95-96. Those were some great teams. The players would get under the bleachers and start their clapping and chants and the crowd would join in and we’d crank up the music and this place would rock.
Q: How happy are you for the players?
A: It’s all about the student athlete. While winning is not the most important thing – because I think there is a lot of growth and development that happens as part of an athletics program – we still do keep score in athletics. One of the things you hope to have in athletics is to have fun and I think one of the best ways I know to have fun is to win. It’s no fun losing. For those student athletes, that is something that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives and it’s not anything that you can bottle and market and sell. It is spontaneous and it’s great and to see our student athletes have that experience is why I got in this business.