Men's basketball team wins championship...and our hearts

by Charmaine Daniels

Men's basketball GNAC Champions group photo

February Fabulous led to March Madness for the men's basketball team, as it headed to the NCAA national tournament after clinching its first Great Northeast Athletic Conference championship in just its second year as a member of the conference.

At the GNAC Championship game on the Monks home court, up-beat excitement showed in the waves of royal blue shirts and blue-painted faces and bodies that were out in force. Five fans spelled Mitch with one letter each painted on their chests (for senior captain Mitch Ouellet), campus chaplain Fr. Paul Dumais executed a high-jumping chest bump with a fan, the capacity crowd began its roar and the fevered pitch took off. But euphoria about our lead through most of the game disappeared as Emmanuel College tied at the buzzer to send it into overtime.

With two seconds to go in overtime, senior Elbie Murphy made a back-door basket to give the Monks the lead at 74-72. The fans were on the edge of their seats. When Emmanuel couldn't drop in a shot to respond, the buzzer went off, and we had the win. The blue-shirted crowd raced to the gym floor, surrounding the players and coaches in a scene that looked like it was lifted from "Hoosiers." Weaving through the crowd, Sr. Mary George O'Toole '51 found head coach Rob Sanicola '99 and delivered a congratulatory hug. What a season. What a game.

As 9-year-old water boy Conner Piers, son of Sheri McCarthy Piers '93, said, "It was really intense... I wondered if we would win it."

Five days later, in only its second post-season appearance in the nationals, the Monks were defeated by Bridgewater State, whose shooters were having a "can't miss" night. Though the Monks staged a comeback and never lost their poise, the Bridgewater offense, which shot an amazing 73 percent in the second half, proved to be too much. Overall St. Joe's went 21-8 on the season.

But there was much to celebrate this season, as coach Sanicola was named GNAC Coach of the year and earned his 100th win, Ray Eatmon '10 and Elbie Murphy '09 won All-Conference honors, and Scot Vachon '09 was named GNAC Tournament Most Valuable Player.

And winter-weary fans were given a "gripping, exciting season" in the words of Amber Caron '01. She and husband Sean Carey '99 attended almost all of the home games and enjoyed mingling with other alumni and faculty. She also expressed great pride in fellow alumnus Coach Sanicola, and says, "We look forward to next year's season!"