The day after Loyola lost to Evanston on Feb. 6, Kevin Cunningham stood in front of his coaches and teammates and spoke about the ways he was accountable for the 43-40 defeat.
As a captain, Cunningham said it’s his responsibility to take ownership of his mistakes, even if that included putting himself in uncomfortable situations.
“That was the first time I had done something like that, but I felt like, in that moment, it was necessary to say something,” he said. “I watched the whole game, and I had to be honest with myself and with the team for us to grow. There are things all of us can do better.”
The Ramblers wrapped up the regular season Tuesday at home with a 73-25 win over Steinmetz. The No. 4 seed at the Class 4A Maine East Sectional, Loyola (22-6) starts the playoffs next week in the regional semifinals at Maine South.
When Cunningham and senior Pete Mangan were selected as captains shortly after last season ended, neither one was very vocal at the time. That’s why, in the offseason, they both set out to lead by example, which meant practicing what they preached.
“We consistently worked our butts off each day, so we could demand the same from our teammates,” Cunningham said. “The way we’ve gone about being captains is through action.”
Mangan admitted he had to adjust his “laid-back” personality to succeed in his new role.
“I’m pretty even-keeled,” he said. “But once everything got started, I got serious and more aggressive. It was something I worked on.”
Loyola head coach Tom Livatino is a proponent of teams led by players, and he said Cunningham and Mangan are two of the best captains he’s had in his nine seasons with the Ramblers in that regard.
“We hoped they would develop into leaders, but you never know,” Livatino said. “No other captains we’ve had did a better job in the offseason. They really took over, and that’s what you want to see.
“There is no chance we are where we are as a team without those two.”
Cunningham was the only starter to return from last season’s Class 4A regional title team that finished 22-9. Mangan averaged a few minutes a game off the bench as a junior on a roster with 10 seniors.
Each elevated his play this season, and both are significant contributors offensively and defensively.
An all-Catholic League selection — an honor awarded to the top six players in the 18-team conference — Cunningham leads Loyola in points (12.6 per game), assists (3.2), steals (1.0), deflections (3.0) and total charges (17) through the regular season. He’s second in rebounds (3.4).
Mangan leads the Ramblers in rebounds (5.1) and is second in assists (2.9), steals (0.9) and deflections (2.7). He’s third in points (6.9) and tied for second in total charges (14). He was named to the all-Catholic Blue team.
Mangan’s captaincy is extra special because his brother — 2015 graduate Michael Mangan — served as a captain for his senior season at Loyola.
“It’s an honor and a great tradition,” Pete said. “It means a lot to me to be a captain for this team.”
Despite only two seasons of varsity basketball, Cunningham will leave Loyola as one of the program’s all-time leading scorers with more than 600 points and on of its best perimeter shooters. On Saturday, he committed to play at University of St. Thomas, a traditionally strong Division III program in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Tommies have won two national titles since 2011.
Mangan won’t graduate with Cunningham’s statistics, but his value isn’t measure in numbers.
“Pete is the definition of Loyola basketball,” Cunningham said. “He’s all about doing whatever it takes to not let your brother down.”
Same goes for Cunningham, too.
According to Livatino, Cunningham’s speech following the loss to Evanston is exactly what he wants from his captains.
“He didn’t have his best game,” Livatino said. “But he still got up and talked about how he needed to improve, and how he was going to do it. He set the tone for the rest of the team to follow. Pete was right there with him. We went out and had the best practice of the season after that.”
Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola