With all of the important events happening throughout the world, from politics to foreign affairs to personal tragedies, it’s often easy for me to feel as though sports pale in comparison. And for good reason. But there are also certain times when I am reminded of just how important and meaningful sports can be.
p. Monday night was one of those times.
p. My most lasting memory of the Tribe’s improbable run to the CAA Tournament Championship game will not be sophomore David Schneider rattling in a three-pointer with 1.5 seconds left, saving the Tribe from a first round upset defeat against Georgia State.
p. It won’t be Nathan Mann, after having struggled mightily through his first game and a half of tournament play, hitting a game-winning three with 7.5 seconds left to lead his team past bitter rival ODU in the second round.
p. It won’t be Laimus Kisielius putting the Tribe on his back against conference leader VCU, vaulting the College into its first-ever CAA title game with his game-winning bank shot with three seconds left.
p. It won’t even be looking up at the Jumbo-Tron at the Richmond Coliseum and seeing the Tribe being televised live on ESPN.
p. It will be the moment late in the second half of the team’s championship game matchup against George Mason, with the Tribe clearly worn down, out-matched and facing a considerable deficit. Nothing short of a miracle comeback would allow the Tribe to beat a talented, experienced Mason squad. It was then, from my seat on press row, that I heard a resounding chant of “Let’s Go Tribe” rise up from the College’s cheering section behind me.
And while at that moment I did my very best to keep my impartial reporter’s hat on, I could recall few times in my life when I had ever been more proud to be a part of something than I did right then.
p. It’s not just that the team defied every expectation, upset two teams that were in the NCAA Tournament last year, and did so in impressive, exciting fashion. It’s that the team made us believe. The fact that they did so, given the program’s tradition of losing records and lackluster fan support, is nothing short of remarkable. And the fact that they were able to unite the school, bringing together students, alumni, parents and fans in support of the team, after many members of the same groups were so sharply divided just one month ago, is something far more meaningful than the team’s on-court accomplishments.
p. Last year’s eighth-place finish in the conference was a step forward for the Tribe. This year’s run to the CAA finals has been a quantum leap. Not only did the team prove itself as being among the CAA’s elite, but it brought the program a level of national attention and exposure that would have been unthinkable at the start of the season. Next year looks promising as well, as the Tribe will field a stacked roster, led by emerging stars Schneider and Danny Sumner, along with Arkansas transfer Sean McCurdy.
p. But for now, it is essential to recognize the contributions of the senior class, particularly Kisielius and Mann. Perhaps even more important than their scoring ability has been their on-court leadership, which was on full display at the CAAs. Most of all, with the aid of CAA Coach of the Year Tony Shaver, they’ve helped turn around a team and create a level of excitement that this program hasn’t seen in its history, while at the same time bringing back unity to a campus that so sorely needed it.
p. And for that, we all have reason to be thankful.
p. __E-mail Jeff Dooley at email@example.com.__