When you’re the underdog, maybe it’s easier. At least there’s less pressure coming at you from the outside. On the inside though, it’s a different story. Just because other people don’t have great expectations doesn’t mean that you don’t. You do. Every beat of your heart reinforces that desire, that drive, that determination, the thing that keeps you sharp and your focus on the win. In your head, in your heart, in your gut, you want it and you fight for it and you hardly have time to think about anything else. That’s OK. It’s what you do, you play ball and this year, this particular year, you surprised a whole lot of people.
And it was thrilling, all of it. Opening the newspaper day after day and finding stories about USD, about our teams “our men, our women, our student-athletes” made us, the ones who, of course, aren’t on the court, still feel a very personal satisfaction. “Hey! That’s us! They’re talking about us!” The astounding one-two punch of winning West Coast Conference titles for both men and women gave us bragging rights, made us pay closer attention to the talking heads on television, gave us reason to shush conversation when the sports update came on the radio, made us learn what it feels like to really get behind a team. We found out how to rally together and show school spirit and how to wait in line half the night for tickets and to spontaneously applaud when we saw Brandon or Amanda or Gyno striding across campus.
Through it all there were so many nail-biting moments that we sometimes worried that our hearts couldn’t take the excitement. When the women’s team toppled Gonzaga ” the top seed, no less ” in the WCC finale and earned a slot at the next level, we jumped around like maniacs and yelled so loud we hurt our throats and slapped complete strangers on the back. And we’ll never forget that magic day, the one where De’Jon hit a fade-away jump shot in overtime to get the upset over Connecticut in the first round of the NCAA, when the town crackled with the kind of electricity that only comes from having the national spotlight squarely focused upon you. It was all thrilling, even that uncertain time when the rumor was everywhere that Coach Grier had been offered the big bucks to take a job in Oregon, and we didn’t know what would happen next. When we finally found out that he’d be staying here, our sigh of relief was loud enough to hear three counties away.
It took our collective breath away, this glorious season. And if we were, as they say, a Cinderella story, well then, we all got a chance to go to the ball, the Big Dance, the national stage. And when you did your thing, playing your hearts out, you showed us what it looks like to really give something your all. And we were so proud, so awed, so glad to be a part of it, that we just want to let you know how much it meant to all of us.
Thank you for taking us to the ball. It was amazing.