Hello From The Other Side: Nationals 2.0
If anyone was in doubt about UVic’s capabilities in hosting not one U-Sport National Championship, but TWO National Championships, we just blew everyone out of the water because UVic sure knows how to put on a show. This time, though, I wasn’t playing in the show but rather taking things in from another perspective. The perspective of a fan, student and employee–not athlete!
For those who didn’t know, we hosted Women’s Rugby Nationals in November 2016. There the top 8 teams in the country came to UVic to play on Wallace Field and Centennial Stadium. You can find a full recap of the experience from a playing perspective. But this post is about the Women’s Basketball Final 8 Championship.
Working at the Membership Services desk in the lead up to the tournament, I saw all the behind-the-scenes action to put on such a spectacular event. There was a buzz all week in the offices leading off to the first tip-off. Especially from a ticket sales perspective, the phones were ringing off the hook with questions from the public, family and friends of teams qualifying for the Final 8, all eager and excited for the games to begin.
The school was really hyping up the first Vikes game, a highly anticipated game as the Vikes (#8) were going in major underdogs against the #1 ranked Carleton Ravens. The Vikes Nation Ambassadors ran hype events in the quad with the increasingly popular pop-up shot game, media was everywhere, community engagement sessions at local schools, the city was excited!
The Vikes game against Carleton was one of the biggest demonstrations of school spirit I think I’ve ever seen on campus. A sold-out crowd of 2000, the atmosphere was electric. The Vikes Band was out, a local dance company, free t-shirt tosses, the flex cam, the cheer squad, pizza was given out and of course: the half-court shot.
Now—fun side note—Victoria has experienced some pretty horrible weather over the past few months. Yes, I can already hear the laughs and jabs I’ll be taking from readers who hail from “real cold,” but seriously, it has snowed more here this winter than it has in all 16 years I’ve lived on the west coast! And along with that I’ve had the most indoor practices that we’ve ever had for rugby. One practice the team was in the performance gym and I hit a half court shot with the rugby ball and posted it to my Instagram…
Leading up to the tournament I shared the Women’s Basketball season highlights video and wished the women’s basketball team good luck in their first game, because having had the same #1 (Guelph) vs #8 (Vikes) match up in our own Championship in November, I remembered how much the support meant, plus, I was pretty excited for the team!
When I shared the video I joked about the wonderful and legendary in-game host, Kevin Ram, letting me take another half court shot at the game. Before I knew it, Kevin and his magic behind-the-scenes work made it happen!
Anyways, more on that later.
Game night rolled around and I must say, this game was the epitome of Vikes Nation. It was the culmination of years of hard work from a dedicated few who built the concept from the ground up: Zac Andrus, Kevin Ram, Shawna Dash and Sam Bright. I could write a list of so many dedicated people who made this event happen, but I wanted to give a special shout out to those who helped form Vikes Nation because being a part of something bigger than yourself, as cliche as that may sound, can’t be described in words. The support network it’s created, school spirit it’s cultivated and the energy it brings not just to sporting events but the school as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Now, back to the random half court rugby shot story. Kevin told me I would take it at the end of the first quarter, so the entire first quarter I think I might have possibly been more nervous than the entire basketball team. I had hit this “shot” a few times previous to this night, but doing it in front of a sold-out crowd, prize on the line, trying to not make a fool of myself, there was no doubt how anxious I was!
Before I knew it, there was a minute left on the clock in the first quarter and I made my way down to see Kevin. He took me out to center court, put my video up on the screen, then proceeded to ask the crowd if they thought I could do it again. The crowd politely played along and cheered. As they cheered, I turned around to see the entire cheer team had lined the court leading up to the net. No pressure, don’t nail one of them in the face or anything.
I took my first shot, and it was awful! I was shaking so badly, all I could do was laugh at it. Okay Jess, time to re-focus. The crowd let out an exasperated gasp, no way she’s going to get it.
Kevin asked the crowd if I should have another go, again smaller cheers, so I did, but it hit the rim.
“One more shot?”
The crowd continued to play along, we had their attention.
I HIT IT!
Looking back on that, I still can’t help but laugh. It was hilarious, awesome, thrilling, nerve-wracking and I still can’t believe it. I don’t think anyone who was there could either. I mean I knew I could do it, but I really didn’t think it was going to happen!
So in summary, to de-bunk some of the myths surrounding this event:
- It was not scripted.
- No I did not hit any of the cheerleaders in the face with the ball.
- It was my third shot.
However, not taking the spotlight away from the basketball team, they really made the night what it was. They played their hearts out and even were leading Carleton for a good amount of time, keeping the crowd right in it, and the crowd feeding the team energy right back. I must say it was pretty epic. Hats off to the team, you did the school proud.
I think a few teammates and I really felt for the team as we quite literally had gone through the same situation back in November. The same pre-tournament ranking, the same game situation: an unknown favourited Eastern team, a lead that was lost, and a heart-breaking consolation semi-final.
I get it, it may not have ended the way you would have hoped or the school would have hoped for either team, but ultimately, we gave it everything we had.
But I think the bigger picture here was of something special. There was something inspiring about seeing a University host two women’s championships in one year. The young girls I saw around campus watching the games, and at school visits asking about playing sports was awe-inspiring. I sold tickets to a dad and his two daughters right before the Championship Game and the excitement in the two little girls about to go watch female athletes compete for a National Championship was palpable.
The whole event had inspired them.
I think that’s the most anyone could ever hope for.
In all, thank you to the Vikes for bidding for those hosting spots. It gave us all something to remember in our careers and provided inspiration to countless others.
I will be forever grateful!
In case you’re still trying to figure out my future in basketball, check out 2:11 but I highly recommended you watch this whole video made by Aidan Collins!