As Cabrini University faces the somber reality of indefinite closure at the end of the school year, the echoes of a storied basketball program resonate one last time on the court. The final chapter unfolded on Saturday, Jan. 27th, as over 100 proud alumni, spanning decades of Cavaliers’ history, gathered to enjoy an emotionally charged and memorable last alumni game.
A legend returns
The Cabrini basketball program was initiated in 1975 and has been an integral part of the university’s sports history for 49 years. At the center of this legacy stands head coach John Dzik, who dedicated an awe-inspiring 25 years to shaping the Cavaliers into a force to be reckoned with in the world of Division III basketball.
Dzik’s coaching legacy at Cabrini is firmly engraved in the university’s athletic accomplishments. From 1980 to 2005 with Dzik at the helm, the Cavaliers secured Keystone Athletic Conference titles, made multiple appearances in the NAIA Tournament, and clinched District 19 championships. On top of that, the team garnered an impressive 16 conference championships and made 11 appearances in national postseason tournaments. During his tenure, Dzik amassed a staggering 483 victories, the most in Cabrini history.
Dzik’s influence also extended beyond the court. He served as director of men’s athletics (1980-86) and later as director of Athletics (1986-2003). In 2010, he rightfully ascended into the Cabrini Athletic Hall of Fame, becoming the 23rd member and the sole inductee of the class of 2010.
Michael Massari, a Cabrini basketball alumni from the class of 1993, articulated the profound impact of Coach Dzik’s approach, stating, “Coach was interested in who you were. He understood who you were. He worked to get the most out of you as an individual and I think the wins and losses prove that.”
Reunion for the ages
The Cavalier spirit reawakened as alumni and their families flooded the stands, instilling the gymnasium with an electrifying energy. The reunion marked a poignant moment, breathing life back into the heart of the university—an atmosphere not felt in quite some time.
Michael R. Bennett, basketball alumni of 1982, said, “The thing that made Cabrini special was that it was a really small environment, but you had access to everything.”
Massari agreed, “I think it’s really what makes Cabrini special. It’s a family and a unit. Everyone looks out for each other.”
Bennett shared his sentiments on the day, expressing, “There is a lot of emotion tied up in the school here. Coming up here today, I was texting my friends how this is a really bittersweet day,” Bennett continued. “It’s the last time we’ll ever have an alumni game. I’ve been doing this now since 1983.”
Massari shared his own personal connection, “I came here as a third or fourth grader before the Cabrini basketball games happened…So Cabrini has been a part of my life since I was a young man.”
A final farewell
During halftime, Dzik took center stage and delivered a speech that resonated with players, coaches, and fans. Expressing gratitude for the overwhelming turnout, he paid heartfelt tributes to former players and assistant coaches instrumental in shaping the program’s legacy.
In a touching moment, Dzik turned his attention to the present, acknowledging the current Cabrini basketball team led by Coach Ryan Van Zelst. Despite the challenging circumstances surrounding the university’s closure, Dzik applauded the team’s resilience and dedication, underscoring the resolute spirit that defined Cabrini basketball.
In looking back on his 25 years at Cabrini, Dzik stressed the communal atmosphere within the program. “Cabrini is a family, so I became a part of something bigger than myself. There are so many people that touched my life in so many ways.”
Dzik explained how for him coaching wasn’t just a job; it was a calling and a passion he carried throughout his time. “I always wanted to coach, and I’ve always loved athletics. Cabrini gave me that opportunity, which I’m very thankful for,” he shared. The deep connection he forged with the university is evident. “Cabrini became part of me. I tell people when you cut me, the blood comes out blue. I’ll be a Cabrini person forever till the day I die.”
As the final buzzer sounded at Cabrini’s last alumni game, wrapping up nearly five decades of basketball achievements, it stood as a tribute to the enduring values of family, togetherness, and pride that defines Cabrini University.
The cheers and memories from that court will stay in the hearts of players and fans, making sure Cabrini’s basketball legacy lives on, even as the university says goodbye.