A Season to Remember

Perhaps the 2021-22 men’s basketball season will be remembered on the Saint Mary’s campus as the year that the Gaels knocked off No. 1 Gonzaga in Moraga, defeated a college basketball blue blood in Indiana, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Choose whichever example you’d like, but no one can argue the investment made by SMC fans, students, and alums as the Gaels welcomed the unbridled energy of college basketball back into the campus community.

Of course, the ledger will show that the 2021-22 season ended Saturday with No. 4 seed UCLA defeating the No. 5 seed Gaels, 72-56, in the NCAA Tournament round of 32. A hot start put the Gaels in good position early, but a dry spell on offense to end the first half allowed the Bruins to take control and Saint Mary’s could never climb all the way back after halftime.

But look beyond the score for a moment and you see the importance of Saturday’s game, and the season as a whole, in a much larger context.

Multiple sections of Portland’s Moda Center were jammed with fans clad in Gael colors. “Gritty Not Pretty” t-shirts were easy to find throughout the arena. Before the game even tipped off, the scene inside the nearby Hyatt Regency painted the picture of a community both thankful to be together and hungry to see what might transpire next.

After a year away because of COVID-19, the return of fan energy might be one of the biggest lasting memories of an unforgettable season.

If you were in the building, you likely won’t soon forget the night that Gael fans rushed the court to celebrate a win over No. 1 Gonzaga. Even if you weren’t there in person, you probably remember the reaction you had. Likewise, a dominant win over one of college basketball’s blue bloods, Indiana, in the NCAA Tournament sparked a celebration that won’t soon be forgotten.

By the end of the season, there was so much more to celebrate. Fans traveled in droves to Portland to support Saint Mary’s in the NCAA Tournament, a program no longer considered the little engine that could but rather a mainstay on the national landscape.

2021-22 will also be remembered as the year that the “Gritty Not Pretty” moniker was born. First uttered by Kyle Bowen, amplified on Gael radio broadcasts and social media, and adopted by the entire SMC basketball community, the label fit perfectly a group that appealed to fans as a hard-working, blue-collar bunch.

The future remains bright for the Gaels on the court, but what lies ahead is equally exciting for the entire Saint Mary’s community. Because, if the now-concluded season is any indication, it would be hard to argue that the unmistakable energy of Saint Mary’s has weathered the pandemic and is back in full force.