National Champions: Part Two

Many Villanovans had to change their Easter plans this year. Instead of driving back home or flying to see family, many of my friends scrambled to find flights to San Antonio, Texas. Many eagerly entered in the student lottery to get ticketed for Villanova’s second Final Four appearance in the last three years. Some students were able to get on one of the two chartered flights Villanova arranged for fans. Others took a wide array of transportation—planes, trains, and automobiles—to get to the Alamodome in San Antonio. Conversations for the two days prior to Easter break were dominated by the big questions —“Are you going to San Antonio?” “Did you get ticketed?” “Where are you staying?”

I was not personally able to go to San Antonio, but the enthusiasm surrounding the game followed me to New York City, where I was visiting my family. I did an inordinate amount of research on Villanova’s first opponent, the Kansas Jayhawks, to see who their key players were and how we would pull out a win. While I braved some East Coast rain, I saw Snapchats of my friends in sunny San Antonio learning about the historic Alamo and walking around their famed River Walk. I envied not only their ability to see our team play in the Final Four game, but also to see Nova Nation in full force, traveling more than a thousand miles to support our school.

In true Catholic school fashion, after our 95-79 win over Kansas Saturday night, we held an Easter Mass Sunday morning. This Mass served the nearly 4,000 Villanova fans who had made the trek down and bolstered the already high-spirits of Nova Nation. Team Chaplain Father Robert Hagan said of the Wildcats, “May they fill up more baskets than the Easter Bunny.” That, they did.

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An inside look at the watch party held in the Connelly Center!

Returning back to campus that Monday, the energy was palpable. My friends who were flying back into Philadelphia around game time did everything in their power to expedite their return to campus. Everyone was vying to get a great spot at the game watches our Campus Activities Team put on in both the Connelly Center and at the Oreo, the central hub on campus. Complete with DJs, free pizza and halftime entertainment, this game watch had just as much excitement as any other Villanova game. I was quite thrilled to find out that during the halftime entertainment, my amazingly talented roommate won a dance battle on stage, and was subsequently gifted a Villanova lawn chair.

I’m in a unique situation in which I can compare my two National Championship victories to each other. Not many college students in America have that blessing, but here we find ourselves in an era of Jay Wright-Villanova Basketball excellence. If you’re at all familiar with “The Shot” (which you should be!), this is the shot Kris Jenkins took with 4.7 seconds left in the 2016 National Championship game that propelled Villanova to a 77-74 win over the UNC Tarheels. When people ask me how it felt to see that shot as a Villanova student, I find I don’t have the words to explain it. In disbelief. Out of body? No one quite knew what to do. Surreal.

This year, it was in the cards. We started off confident. We maintained our lead throughout the second half. The 79-62 victory over the Michigan Wolverines put to rest any qualms people had about Villanova being an underdog.

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Jalen Brunson holds up the 2018 National Champion trophy in celebration!

Once the clock ran out, all of the students bolted to the intersection of Lancaster and Ithan, where we had congregated just two years earlier. Tears of happiness were shed. Hugs were shared. Many chants of “Let’s Go Nova” were shouted at the top of our lungs. Being the best really feels the best. The second time around was just as sweet.

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Students cheered on as the parade traveled toward Philadelphia’s City Hall!

School was cancelled the next day, and this past Thursday the city of Philadelphia held a parade for our new 2018 National Champions. The trains from West Campus were packed with Villanova students clad in their freshly minted “Villanova NCAA National Champions 2018” shirts, just picked up at the University bookstore. Against the backdrop of Philadelphia’s City Hall, we were able to unite in celebration. This parade included not only the Nova Nation, but everyone from Philadelphia who felt the magnetic excitement of this victory.

 

Since the 2016 title game, I have attended more Villanova basketball games at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. I’ve listened to more commentary of Big East basketball on television, which my dad and brother supplement with their own perspectives on how Jalen Brunson has matured as a player since his first year. I’ve purchased more Villanova shirts from our University Bookstore. I’ve interacted with Jay Wright in the Davis Center, where I felt like I was speaking to a full-fledged movie star. He took it well, as I’m sure he deals with that a lot. I’ve celebrated, cried and cheered, all with my closest friends.

From these experiences, I’ve realized Villanova basketball hasn’t just brought us more wins or more recognition. It’s brought us an undeniable sense of community. It’s brought us closer to what we all want from our college experiences—memories we will never forget.

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