Bringing SMC Spirit to March Madness

After a year without fans, the spirit that comes along with the Saint Mary’s men’s basketball team returned to full capacity in 2021-22.

Spirit can mean lots of things in a college basketball context, but in Moraga, it can usually be associated with the tight-knit community that makes being a Gael special.

Business Administration and Marketing major Katelin Young knows exactly how to describe that part of the Saint Mary’s ethos.

As a senior captain of the SMC Spirit Team, Young has followed the SMC basketball team throughout the season, joining with her teammates whether in UCU Pavilion, at the WCC Tournament, or now at the NCAA Tournament in Portland, to cheer on the Gaels throughout an unforgettable season.

Young's experience is a perfect example of the ways in which a trip to March Madness means a whole lot more to a college campus than just what happens on the court.

“It’s really exciting. The last time I was here was my freshman year of college, so it’s really exciting to be back and also be in a better position than we were that year, too,” Young said. “This year has honestly gone by so fast, since it is my last year, so I’m just really excited to be here and be a part of it and get to watch these guys do what they love and do a really good job at it.”

The Saint Mary’s Spirit Team has long been a part of the SMC basketball experience. As perhaps some of the most important contributors to UCU Pavilion’s renowned atmosphere, Young and her teammates have helped bring the spirit back after a year in which COVID-19 forced fans to stay away.

“There is an incredible difference from the years I’ve cheered in the past compared to this year,” Young said. “This year, I feel like our students have shown up a lot more and have been really involved and really wanting to cheer all of us on, band, our team, and obviously the guys too. I think it also made them play better, all the energy and all of us being together, everyone could feel that and it really helped us make it this far.”

Another big contributor to the Saint Mary’s spirit is the SMC Sports Band. Seen at home games in its usual corner position on UCU Pavilion's lower level, the band has also played a pivotal role in returning that sense of community to Gaels basketball.

And, when the Gaels take on Indiana in the first round of March Madness, both the spirit team and sports band will be courtside to provide a little of that Moraga magic inside Portland’s Moda Center.

“It’s surreal. I look around and it’s crazy that I ended up in this position,” said senior drummer Brent Dondalski. “Especially with this being our highest seed (in school history), beating Gonzaga, senior year, it just feels like our year.”

Dondalski, a Communication major, offers another great example of how the Saint Mary’s community has enjoyed supporting the 2021-22 Gaels.

He admits to not being the biggest basketball fan in the world when he came to SMC on a music scholarship, but through watching the Gaels and WCC basketball, he built a love for the sport that now has him rushing to fill out brackets ahead of the big dance.

Just like Young, he can tell the difference in the buzz that surrounds this year’s team and the atmosphere on campus. That has a lot to do with a year away, but also speaks to the energy that has always been present when it comes to supporting basketball at Saint Mary’s.

“Post-COVID and during COVID, I was on campus and campus was dead. Even now, sometimes it can be hard to get students out but basketball is the one thing that seems to never fail,” Dondalski said. “It gets all the students out. Going undefeated at home is so big. That’s not something that happens all the time. I think everyone is all in on this team.”

Both the SMC spirit team and sports band will get a chance to support their favorite team on Thursday at 4:20 p.m. when the Gaels and Hoosiers square off. No matter the outcome, both Young and Dondalski can attest that nobody will forget the return of that familiar Saint Mary’s spirit and an energy that both of their teams have a lot to do with.

“The number one thing I always tell people, friends from back home and family, is if you come to a Saint Mary’s game, you’re going to remember it because UCU Pavilion is so small that it really encapsulates that energy,” Young said. “It gets really loud, people get really into it, and it’s such a tight-knit community that when people show up, you can really tell that everyone cares and wants to be there. That makes it a really good experience and unique.”