A Senior’s Letter To The Student Section


Courtesy of Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

Jack Roberge and Cate McCusker at Hoops Mania 2021.

Jack Roberge, Editor Emeritus

Each year on January 2, I get a Snapchat memory from my freshman year that makes me laugh a bit. It’s simply a picture of The Finn from the student section, but the caption I chose was “wrong school lol.”

I made the mistake of starting my collegiate experience elsewhere. My first school lacked community and had virtually no sports to speak of. I tried going to a basketball game exactly once. It was the most hyped up game of the season, though I don’t remember who we were even playing now. The experience was one that picking a word like “abysmal” or “horrid” would actually misrepresent it.

Sure, it was pretty terrible. Most of all, though, it was simply forgettable. The entire game, my group of friends were seated, talking about anything but the game, in the small and rafter-relegated student section William & Mary saw fit to give us in the much-larger-than-The-Pavilion Kaplan Arena. Needless to say, I was unmoved by the experience, and never once made the two minute walk to Kaplan ever again during my year there.

Fast forward a few months, I visited some friends from high school who went to Villanova over winter break. They told me that if I wanted, they had an extra ticket to a game against Xavier in the Finneran Pavilion. I accepted, and I tried to look the part, leaving my yellow and green of William & Mary behind for a random assortment of navy clothes I found in my wardrobe. Lucky for me nobody checks all that closely, and without even a Wildcard, my screenshot of a ticket from someone I’d never met got me in.

The Villanova student section is what convinced me I needed to come here.

Believe me, I’m well aware it isn’t the best student section ever. There are way too many people who dress only for a tailgate as though there isn’t a game afterwards. There are too many people who are unsure of who anyone other than the starting five are. There are far too many people who leave for Xfinity Live at halftime, even during close games. None of that mattered to me then, even though it bothers me now.

What mattered to me then, and what will be so hard to leave now, was the sense of community I found in that student section. I found myself looking around constantly, in awe of the fact that so many people were so excited for their school. Even though I really didn’t care for either team then, I quickly found myself enraptured in the energy of the student section and rooting for Villanova as though I was a part of the community.

What I didn’t know then in that Snapchat caption, and what I laugh about now, was that I was at exactly the right school. I eventually realized that, and after some external convincing and self-reflection, I chose to transfer here, excited for the newfound community. The universe had different ideas, though.

I got about four months of basketball, but ultimately the pandemic put a quick end to that. The season ended anticlimactically without a March Madness tournament, which hurt even more as I still believe that was the best team I saw in my three years here.

As sophomore year came and went without a conclusive end to the basketball season, junior year began with a lot of question marks. Ultimately The Finn went fanless that season, but watching games in friends’ apartments was at least better than nothing. Once again, however, the season ended with disappointment, and the culture of basketball was once again mostly nonexistent.

Collin Gillespie going down in the Senior Night game against Creighton led to low expectations for the tournament, and ultimately the ‘Cats made a relatively unsurprising Sweet 16 exit against the future champion Baylor Bears.

My first time back in The Finn in well over a year, like many of us, came when I got to cover Hoops Mania with my former Co-Editor-in-Chief, Cate McCusker. Seeing people back in The Finn for the first time in years for the elderly among us, and the first time at all for the underclassmen, was an overwhelmingly emotional experience.

“Hoops Mania in The Finn last semester was one of those times when you’re just so happy to be a Villanovan,” McCusker said. “Honestly, I got a little emotional when we did the Swag Surfin’ cheer. I felt like I belonged, like I was a part of something bigger than myself, and that’s a really cool feeling. It was definitely a highlight in my time at Villanova.”

That overwhelming emotion of seeing in person games faded as the season progressed, but throughout the Big East and March Madness tournaments, many seniors once again reflected on the return to normalcy they had experienced over the past year.

“After seeing the Big East Tournament get cancelled in 2020 and having no in-person spectators last season, I cherished every moment inside the Pavilion this year,” Senior Jason Mitala said.  “Watching a team led by guys who have been at Villanova longer than I have was a special memory that speaks volumes about the culture of our basketball program.”

Fellow senior Susannah McHugh agreed.

“Having the chance to watch games like the Big East championship and the Elite Eight win with other Nova students and other members of the senior class really did feel like a full circle moment,” McHugh said. “Even with two basketball seasons affected by COVID, it felt like we all had grown up as students watching the games together. You could feel the sense of pride and community in the room, and as seniors, it was so awesome to watch Samuels, Gillespie and Slater act as key players and team leaders after watching them on the court for all four years.”

The Villanovan’s own former Sports Editor, Billy Vinci, put it succinctly: “At the end of the day I’m here because of the basketball program. Getting one more mostly normal season and postseason as part of my experience after two bad ones has been incredible.”

This season meant more to us as seniors than we can begin to put into words. After the pandemic took so much of our college experience, this season was the sendoff none of us ever really thought we would receive. It’s something the words “thank you” can never really begin to express, but nonetheless, thank you.

Thank you to Coach Wright and the entire coaching staff. Thank you to the entire team, but especially Collin, Jermaine and Dhamir for all that you’ve given to this community. Thank you as well to Justin, this entire community is rooting and praying for you and cannot wait to see you back on the floor next year. Thank you to all of the staff and student groups who made this experience possible in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. To anyone involved in making this season even a remote semblance of normal, and to all of those who made it exceptional beyond that, thank you, we will never forget it.