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Why the Iona coaching staff wore sweatsuits during the MAAC tournament

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Iona coach Tim Cluess (AP)

The full-body black sweatsuits the Iona coaching staff wore during the MAAC tournament weren't merely an attempt to be more comfortable on the bench.

Tim Cluess and his assistants went with a casual look because it has become a good luck charm.

When the Iona staff first unveiled the jumpsuits on March 1 to raise awareness for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Gaels emerged from a stretch of six losses in seven games by toppling then-first place Loyola (Md.) 90-86. The coaches were mingling with fans at a reception after the game when Iona president Joseph E. Nyre and athletic director Eugene Marshall congratulated them on the win and said, "Guess we're going to continue wearing sweatsuits, right?"

"We were thrilled because we'd rather coach in them anyway," Iona associate head coach Jared Grasso said. "Our senior night, we beat Siena and they became a superstitious thing for our staff. The whole athletic department, our alums and our boosters have bought in. At this point, I don't think they'll let us wear anything else."

Since Iona coaches began wearing the sweatsuits, the Gaels have reeled off five straight wins culminating in Monday night's 60-57 victory over rival Manhattan in the MAAC tournament title game. The fourth-seeded Gaels (20-13) clinched an NCAA tournament bid for the second straight season and earned an opportunity to avenge their second-half collapse against BYU in a First Four game last March.

During the course of Iona's MAAC tournament run, a handful of fans in the crowd began wearing sweatsuits to games. Grasso said other fans yelled to the coaches as they walked back to their hotel after victories, "Don't take off the sweatsuits. Stick with the sweatsuits."

"It's fun and it's for a great cause," Grasso said. "For us to play in a championship game like that and get some media attention for cystic fibrosis, that's a great thing to do. It's something the staff has enjoyed and the school has enjoyed. Every coaching staff has walked out and said, 'We wish we could coach in these too.'"

The connection between Iona and cystic fibrosis stems from the nephew of one of the school's primary boosters.

Alex Tarletsky, the 17-year-old nephew of Iona alums John and Monica Judge, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was eight months old. The Judge family became good friends with former Iona coach Kevin Willard during his tenure and together they started the tradition of the Gaels coaches wearing sweatsuits and pins to raise awareness for cystic fibrosis.

Seeing the sweatsuits become a good luck charm has inspired Monica Judge to email the staff after every game to congratulate them on the victory and thank them for the gesture. And now the sweatsuits will make at least one more appearance this season – wherever the Gaels play their first-round NCAA tournament game.

"They're staying on until we lose," Grasso said. "Hopefully you'll be seeing them three or four more times."

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