By Dylan Smith, Staff Writer
Can you imagine yourself in the biggest game of your life? Additionally, can you imagine yourself standing on the sidelines coaching your team to the NCAA Division III basketball tournament? Nearly 25 years after his first trip, River Hawks Head Coach Frank Marcinek brought his team back to the NCAA Division III tournament for the second year in a row. Calling the shots for almost 30 years here at Susquehanna, Marcinek has been a staple on the sideline for the River Hawks. Everyone goes through slumps and droughts but Susquehanna has been lifted up year in and year out by their head coach. Rising above the adversity does not come as a surprise to Coach Marcinek.
Cancer did. Nearing the summer, Marcinek’s first run in the NCAA tournament since 1994 had come to an end and spring sports were starting playoffs. Only Marcinek, as an administrator, traveled with the Susquehanna baseball team to Cortland for their NCAA bid.
Marcinek said, “I was exercising, I was feeling good.”
After having small headaches consistently, Marcinek made a trip to doctor. Not even he was ready to find out news that would shake up his life. Simply, “wow.”
Now he was sitting in the doctor’s office waiting and testing. Waiting and testing. Only hearing the sounds of machines running tests in the background.
May 19, 2016, 2:30 p.m., the birthday of Marcinek, the doctor, told him he had cancer. The happy celebration of life turned into a sudden realization of how quick life can change and “rock your world.”
Initially, the shock set in, and thoughts are racing through his head. ‘How do I tell my wife and kids, what is the game plan, what are the options?’
A week after the diagnosis, Marcinek was greeted by a team of doctors, who were no nonsense in describing the procedures and what each one specializes in.
Confusion. He was sitting in a room about the size of his 10×10 office, surrounded by six to eight doctors describing the process to him. “It was difficult to process,” and he “didn’t understand anything they said but they weren’t going back to square one.”
He decided to go with the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, because “they had a very aggressive form of treatment but would have less side effects.”
In late July 2016, over the course of three days, chemotherapy started. “The first time, you don’t know what it’s all about. It’s fairly relaxing, you get the chemo[therapy] through a port. The port was vital to the therapy and the feeding tube was vital to my survival.” The port would keep the chemicals moving along with fluids.
After the first treatment, Marcinek describes it as a “very bad hangover, where you feel lethargic, and want to lay around.”
After the second treatment, he physically and mentally felt good. After the third treatment, the combination of the radiation and the drugs left Marcinek saying, “you could taste the chemicals.”
“Water would burn going down,” he remembered.
But like anything else Marcinek has done, according to Bailey, “he attacked it.”
On August 26th, 2016 after 33 radiations and three chemotherapies, Marcinek had finished the treatments but was not out of the woods just yet.
“For the next two weeks, I could still feel the radiation working… and you’re not feeling like you are recovering.”
“It’s a slow, gradual climb back up.” Comeback.
Noticeably thinner, frail, lacking a voice are just a few descriptions of Marcinek.
Marcinek was ready to turn over responsibilities to assistant coaches Sam Moore and Chad Bailey. However, every time he stepped into his Houts, his voice came back, and he felt his best.
Success. Thanksgiving day 2016, Marcinek is told that he is clear of cancer. From that point forward, the River Hawk took fight and flew sky high.
The 2016 season was capped offbyaruntotheSweet16inthe NCAA Division III Tournament.
They finished the season 23-6, averaging just under 80 points per game.
“Coach was using basketball as a way to escape everything life was throwing at him. He easily could’ve thrown in the towel and taken a few years resolve his individual conflicts, but instead he was even more focused and dedicated to our team’s success,” Weidlich said. Step 365.
Almost a year later, the team is back in practices and focusing on getting back to the NCAA Tournament. There is a new offensive scheme in part to the loss of multiple starting seniors in the past two seasons, with Steven Weidlich, Josh Miller, and Brandon Headley.
There is a lot to be hopeful for this upcoming season according to Coach Marcinek.
“It’s not something we think about all the time,” said Prusch.
Prusch added that, “In past years, certain things would irk him, but in the grand scheme of things, [Marcinek said] life is more important and we should be having fun.”