Students dance with Wolves in Branson

Monday, April 15, 2013 2:10:00 PM

By Buddy Herberg

On Monday night, March 11, Stritch students gathered in both the Union and Great Hall on campus to watch the men’s basketball team compete in the semi-final round of the NAIA Division II National Tournament. It was around 9 p.m. when the excitement level started to rise. The Wolves had a double digit lead with only a minute left.

The text message sent out by baseball coach Michael Zolecki to his players in the winding seconds of the game preceded an unforgettable event for both the students involved and for the school’s mark on history.

“It is important for us to support our men’s basketball team. When they win this game I would hope you all sign up for the bus to go see them play in finals tomorrow,” said Zolecki. The text message was sent out to the baseball team, but the opportunity to travel was extended to students, staff, faculty and alumni.

A coach bus filled with students, athletes, staff and even Dr. James Loftus, president of the University, along with two packed Stritch vans trekked their way 10 hours to Branson, Missouri to watch the team take on William Penn University in the final championship game.

“It was absolutely worth getting up at 5:30 a.m. and riding the bus for 20 hours,” said senior Marcus Perleberg. “I missed the trip to Notre Dame earlier this year and the second I heard I had another chance to watch the basketball team compete on the big stage, I jumped on it. I couldn't miss out on this one.”

Perleberg was not alone in his enthusiasm. Sophomore James Jones couldn't hold back a smile when asked about his trip to Branson.

“The experience was incredible.  You wouldn’t believe the amount of excitement present on the bus and in the stands at the game,” said Jones. “The energy level reminded me of how excited students get over NCAA March Madness.  It was that exhilarating.”

Jones  and Perleberg were only a pair among many who felt the vivacity of the entire experience. Additional students displayed their surface excitement for the trip, but also shared in the deeper emotional attachment. Sophomore Alyssa Zickert voiced the underlying factor of what it meant to be part of something so special.

“History was made that night and I was fortunate enough to have witnessed it firsthand. I was incredibly proud to be a part of it,” said Zickert. “I was proud to see my friends and classmates play so passionately. Their love of the game was so obvious so me and everyone surrounding me.”

The passion which the Wolves exemplified was much appreciated by the students who came to watch, but as Coach Drew Diener and team explained on the fan bus after the game, it was due in part to the students’ appreciation that gave the team the extra push to play with so much heart and desire.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the cheering section we had. It meant so much to know that the school so adamantly supports us,” said sophomore guard Tony Smit.

Junior Clint Andreson drove a Stritch van both ways to the game, totaling over 20 hours of driving in a span of just 28 hours. But later on the day after their return, a tired Andreson responded to the question of whether or not it was worth it, with a strong, positive, “Absolutely - I hope I get the chance to do it all over again next year.”