by Paige Quiñones, '14
It was 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 1 as 63
students loaded up coach buses headed to the University of Minnesota to cheer
on Stritch's men’s basketball team as they took on the Big Ten’s Golden
Gophers. Heading into the match, the Golden Gophers held a previous season
record of 23-15 whereas Stritch was coming off an impressive record of 35-3
which led to their 2013 national title.
During last year's pre-season exhibition
game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Stritch Wolves kept a tight
game, but lost 56-70. This season, with the Wolves
losing three key offensive players and adding nine players to their overall
roster, everyone is excited to see how head coach Drew Diener will put together
another winning season. Since Diener’s arrival in 2009, he has distinguished
himself as the fastest coach in the CCAC conference to reach 100 wins and
establish a winning basketball program.
After the five-hour bus ride, and a
pre-game reception hosted by Stritch’s Alumni Association, the dedicated Wolves
fans filled Williams Arena buzzing with excitement. Several students tweeted,
“Let's Go Stritch Basketball #BattleOfTheBorder” to show their enthusiasm and
Both the Wolves and Gophers remained
scoreless for the first two minutes of the game until the Gophers made the
first basket. After that the Wolves got on the board with a quick jumper from
senior Derek Semenas. He would go on to be the leading scorer for the Wolves
with 29 points. However, by halftime, the Gophers had a strong lead, 46-19.
The Stritch section remained hopeful
that the Wolves would catch up by the end of the game as they cut the Gopher
lead to 12 points. But, after the Gophers went on a 5-0 run the game was out of
reach and finished with a final score of 57-79, giving Stritch their first
After the game, I was fortunate enough
to have the chance to sit down with Coach Diener and talk about his expectations
for the 2013-14 season:
What are your expectations for this upcoming season?
Diener: To be able to compete for another
conference title and make a deep run at the national tournament.
Who are your new players and what type of impact do you think they'll have?
Diener: The freshmen guards (Tyler Semenas, Matt
Reinke, Teadric Anderson, and Marcus Fair) are young, athletic, and can score
and allow us some depth in our roster. We also have some new big men (three
being transfers) Garrett Borgrud, Alex Morgunov, Magd Owayed, Isaac Quinn, and
Josiah VerVelde that give us size and make us more of a defensive and offensive
threat because they will be able to relieve the guards with getting easier
baskets down low.
What’s different about this season’s start as opposed to last year? Do you
think being the returning national champions adds additional pressure?
Diener: This year we have a ton of new guys and
fewer returners coming back from last season so we still have yet to establish an
identity as a team. Whereas last year we had a lot of returners, the group knew
our system and program well, and we had an established team chemistry. Also,
being the returning national champions we have a large target on our backs and
everyone is gunning for us.
Who do you think will be your toughest competition this season?
Diener: I would say Robert Morris University.
They are currently ranked #6 in the nation and just got five Division I
recruits. St. Xavier University, ranked at #11 also has the MVP of the
conference returning so we have to start preparing for them.
What will be your largest obstacle to overcome this season?
Diener: The biggest hurdle for us would be the
change in rules that the conference is going through. The conference has said
that they are going to be critical on calling fouls for any physical contact.
We are a physical team, so it’s going to take a learning curve to keep guys out
of foul trouble in a man-to-man defense.
How do think your team will adjust without having a big presence like Darren?
Diener: Losing Darren is a big loss since he was
such a dominant force down low, but now we have to score more from the
perimeter with returning Derek Semenas. Our transfer post players also give
another option for the offense to grow with offensive boards and help free up
As far as team dynamics, who are your leaders?
Diener: Tony Smit and Derek Semenas. These guys
have both been with the program for three years and are extremely vocal. They
play with confidence and hold high expectations for everyone on the court.
You come from a family with a strong coaching background. What is the most
important thing that your Dad has ever taught you?
Diener: The most important thing that he taught
me was the value in building relationships with your players and showing them
that you really care about them on and off the court. The relationships he has
developed have carried over for years and to this day his former players still
talk to him on a daily basis.
Q: If you want your players to take away one
thing from you and your program what would it be?
Diener: The main lessons that I want to
establish is for them to be selfless and to do things as a team. Even if they
aren't starters or see much court time, I want them to still feel valued and to
know that they play a vital role in the program.