Saint Mary's students gather to root team on to first round victory over VCU
MORAGA -- Saint Mary's men's basketball team advanced to the next round of the NCAA tournament Friday after defeating VCU 63-51 in Albany, New York.
#5 St. Mary's was the higher seed and was expected to beat 12th-seeded VCU, but the students at St. Mary's knew not to take things for granted because upsets are a big part of March Madness.
The private Moraga school turned the student union into a watch party. Dozens of students and faculty members packed the two rooms filled with TV monitors.
"I was watching the start of the game in class earlier, 'cause I had class," said St. Mary's College junior Stefano Costa.
He said he couldn't focus on his lecture and had to join the crowd.
"The atmosphere of being together in that community to cheer on the people we go to class with and everything, you can't beat that," said Costa.
Costa said they got to know some of the players pretty well.
With roughly 2,000 undergraduate students, Saint Mary's is one of the smallest schools competing in the NCAA March Madness Tournament.
"You see them in the hallway, you say hi to them. As much as they do love [the respect], I think they do want to be considered like normal students," said Costa.
The Gaels have been to the tournament eight times since 2000, and even reached the Sweet 16 in 2010.
"Even though some of those schools that have 20,000 or 30,000 or 40,000 kids, they can only play five. And we'll match our five against theirs," said Brother Ron Gallagher, retired president of St. Mary's College.
Outside of the small Catholic college, people don't expect St. Mary's to go very far. In fact, most people have no clue it's located in the East Bay town of Moraga.
"Keep writing us off. I know the team loves that. They love to be the underdog," said Costa.
COVID pushed students apart. The college hopes the tournament would bring them back together and boost school spirit.
"It's St. Patrick's Day at St. Mary's College. You can't beat that combo. [We have] high expectations for not only a win today, but a win Sunday and moving forward," said St. Mary's Vice President for Student Life Jim Sciuto.
It was a close game in the first half, but St. Mary's pulled away in the second half and beat VCU.
Students believe the Gaels can go all the way.
"I don't think anyone at school doubted [we could win today]. Everyone here knew it was going to happen. So for everyone who didn't pick us in their bracket, sucks to be you I guess," said Costa.
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