A year after the death of their young coach, the Army women are piling up wins
under her curmudgeonly successor
WITH A 61--57
victory over Patriot League champ Bucknell last Saturday, the Army women's team
enters the conference tournament 24--5 and with an eye on its second straight
trip to the NCAA tourney. Not bad for a team whose coach is supposed to be
holding down a cushy administrative job.
thought he was done with coaching by the time he met with Maggie Dixon in the
fall of 2005. Tired of the grind after three decades as a men's coach,
including 18 years at Marist, he had become an assistant commissioner of the
Mid-American Conference the year before. But then Dixon, 28, the new women's
coach at Army who had no previous head-coaching experience, offered him a job
as her top assistant. Bowled over by her ebullience, Magarity accepted on the
spot—never mind that he hadn't coached women before.
The next six
months, he says, were surreal. The Black Knights started 5--7 but finished with
a flourish, going 15--3 and winning the league tournament to earn the program's
first NCAA bid. After that 69--68 win over Holy Cross, Magarity watched in
wonder as the Corps of Cadets carried Dixon from the Christl Arena floor on
their shoulders. A month later, after she died from complications of heart
arrhythmia, he watched through tears as her players bore her casket to a grave
site in the West Point cemetery.
At the time, he
had already agreed to take a job as the director of college scouting for the
New Orleans Hornets. But after Dixon's death the Army players told him he was
the only person who could replace her. So Magarity, 57, stayed at West Point
for the same reason he'd gone in the first place. "I'm a teacher," says
Magarity. "I love working with kids. That's what I do."
While a second
berth in the Big Dance will most likely hinge on the Black Knights' winning the
conference tourney—in spite of its record, Army's RPI is 143—the season has
been a success in the face of tragedy. Dixon had given the once moribund team
confidence, and Magarity has helped his players remain focused. He began by
overhauling the offense he and Dixon ran a season ago. "Last year we kept
going back to one set," says junior guard Cara Enright, the league's
2005--06 player of the year. "Now we're running 40-something plays."
Wisely, Magarity runs many of them for the smooth-shooting Enright, who was
averaging a league-high 15.3 points per game through Sunday. "She's not
quick, she can't jump and she's not a great athlete," he says. "She
just knows how to play the game."
One of Magarity's
more subtle refinements has been in the approach he takes with his players, an
adjustment he credits to the even-keeled Dixon. Prone to bluster on the
sideline, he's careful to apologize promptly to his players after an outburst.
Also helping him with the transition to coaching women is his daughter Maureen,
whom Dixon interviewed for a job last spring.
While his style
is all his own, Magarity hasn't shied away from Dixon's legacy. He has made a
point to carry on some of her favorite rituals, including the
"We-wills," a list of goals the Black Knights recite before every game.
"I was used to just saying, 'Let's go get 'em,'" he says, of the time
when he coached men. "But the We-wills go around the room. Pregame takes as
long as Ben-Hur."
only complaint. Maybe he'll even stick around for another season.
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