Well, to put it mildly, that sucked. Putting my fan hat back on fully for a moment, I really had it in my mind that our beloved team would be bringing home the trophy to Morgantown. Waking up this morning, it was obvious that the day would drag on and it felt like tip off would never get here.
Upon entering the media room several hours before the game, the nervous energy hung in the air like a damp fog. You could practically touch it. Members of the media are trained to not show emotion while working these games, regardless of how much they come to love this team. If the love of the team comes before the laptop or the camera, that’s where the struggle is. However, it was clear all of those working in some capacity to cover West Virginia in Saturday night’s final wanted the team to win, and felt it when they didn’t.
West Virginia is a hard team not to love, so watching these young men give it their all and not get the prize at the end is a tough pill to swallow. From the start of the game, rather the start of this week’s tournament, it seemed like this was going to be “our year.” The attitudes were there, the drive, the energy. What wasn’t there was what felt like a home-court advantage. Many fans stayed in town to watch the final showdown once their teams had been eliminated. The vast majority of those fans were all rooting for the Mountaineers but it still didn’t compare to the droves of Jayhawks fans who took over the Power and Light District.
I’m not going to lie, nor am I embarrassed to admit it, but I had tears in my eyes watching Dax and JC warming up pre-game. This has been four days of an incredible opportunity and I was so dang thankful to experience this. The game started and it was easy to tell from the get-go that this was going to be a battle to the end.
What’s striking to witness when you’re that close to the players is the incredible bond they have with one another; and that goes for both teams. Both teams have a bond that is incredible to witness, and as I’ve watched the Mountaineers play three games in a row, which is likely more than most fans are able to see in a season, the passion for the game and passion to compete alongside each other is amazing to witness. This team really wanted to win. At the end, because we all know what happened, the Jayhawks had a shooting streak that was just unfathomable and the Mountaineers fell short.
As I finish up my last article in Kansas City, I sit back with tears in my eyes and really start to reflect on how great it is to have come here and witness what I have. Would it have been better with a rendition of “Country Roads” and an overjoyed, celebratory locker room? Obviously. Do I still think the Mountaineers are one of the best teams to root for? Even more so than I did on that early morning flight Wednesday. What stands out to me is that these athletes come to school to play ball, coming in young and not sure of what they are getting themselves into. They leave, however, forever engrained in the hearts of Mountaineers fans, as legacies, as a special family sharing ups and downs and many, many milestones.
This has been an incredible week to take part in. I’ve witnessed Mountaineer fans at their best, and I can truly say West Virginia has some of the best fans in the conference. This team has the potential to go far in the post-season, the Big Dance is around the corner. Yes, it stings going home without that post-victory spring in your (my) step, but rest assured this team has the potential to make history in the next few weeks.
I’ll leave you with this, a little farewell from one of the best, Tony Caridi, which rings true regardless of the outcome; “It’s a great day to be a Mountaineer wherever you may be.”