Zag Up. Always.

This one was personal.

 

19 years ago, I was born to an eternally loyal North Carolina Tar Heels fan on the eve of the 1998 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. The first weeks of my life coincided with a UNC Final Four run. My first Halloween featured me as an itty-bitty Tar Heel cheerleader. Last year, I journeyed to Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke University to witness the best rivalry in college basketball. The Villanova buzzer-beater in last year’s National Championship game was a dagger to the heart. I grew up cheering for Hansbrough and McAdoo. I grew up on Carolina basketball.

 

But that was before Gonzaga.

 

I’ll be the first to admit that the basketball program did have a hand in my college decision. Sports have always been a part of my life, basketball in particular. I’ve watched, played, and even coached basketball. I know the game like the back of my hand. Plus, competitive by nature, I knew I wanted to go to a school with an athletic program that I could pour my heart into. From the moment I stepped into The Kennel, I knew I made the right choice. The energy in that space is electrifying. It is a haven in which I can be my loud, passionate self. I spent the winter months bundled up outside the McCarthy Athletic Center in below-freezing temperatures, waiting for tickets and prime seating at the games. I fought frostbite and hypothermia with my friends as we sat in a tent in anticipation for the season’s biggest games. I endured the exhaustion and soaked up the excitement of Zombie Nation. I was invested in this team and in this school. And boy, Gonzaga did not disappoint. One of a handful of teams to ever win 37 games in one season. Ranked #1 for four consecutive weeks in the AP poll. WCC conference and tournament champs. Coach of the Year. A historic trip to the Final Four and an appearance in the National Championship.

 

Being in Phoenix this weekend is probably the cherry on top of my freshman year, but I won’t lie, the loss hit me hard. I was heartbroken, devastated, crestfallen, crushed. But here’s the thing: basketball is not why I chose Gonzaga. Yes, I loved the idea of cheering on an amazing basketball team when I decided on Gonzaga a year ago, but it’s not the reason I chose this school. I chose GU because it’s a place where students are passionate enough to drive 1300 miles to support their team. I chose GU because of the community, a lot of which for me has been forged by those nights in The Kennel. I chose GU because I knew it was the kind of environment I wanted as the backdrop for me becoming who I am. This weekend played into that formation of identity. I have always been a Carolina fan, because that’s what I’ve always known. But now I’m forming my own connections and developing my own loyalties. Of course, I’ll still root for North Carolina in the regular season (especially against Duke), but now I have less emotional investment in their success. Now I’m a Zag, through and through.