By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
MINNEAPOLIS – After watching Kyle Guy coolly sink three free throws Saturday night to send the University of Virginia men’s basketball team to the NCAA championship game, Charles Snowden paid his friend the ultimate compliment on Twitter.
“Kyle Guy Snowden – the name of my first born,” said Snowden, a linebacker on the UVA football team.
A minute later, Snowden followed up with another tweet: “Don’t matter if it’s a boy or a girl.”
Guy, whose roommates include childhood friend Nash Griffin, one of Virginia’s punters, smiled Sunday afternoon when recounting Snowden’s messages.
“I’m pretty excited about that. I’ll be the godfather probably,” Guy said at U.S. Bank Stadium, where Virginia (34-3) meets Texas Tech (31-6) for the NCAA title Monday at 9:20 p.m. Eastern.
This marks the first time in program history that the Cavaliers have reached the championship game, “and I couldn’t be more happy for them, because I know how much went into this run,” said Snowden, who was a standout hoops player at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C.
Inside and outside the stadium in downtown Minneapolis, signs abound with this message: The Road Ends Here.
For the Cavaliers, their journey in this NCAA tournament began last month in Columbia, S.C., where they defeated Gardner-Webb and Oklahoma. From Columbia they moved on to Louisville, Ky., where they ousted Oregon and Purdue, and then on to Minneapolis, where they eliminated Auburn in the first semifinal Saturday night.
Now comes the final game in the Wahoos’ 10th season under Bennett, a date with Texas Tech that will produce a first-time NCAA champion.
Watching and cheering the Hoos, usually from afar, have been the other members of the UVA athletic family: the student-athletes, coaches and staffers on the school’s other teams. Bennett said he regularly receives congratulatory and supportive messages from his coaching colleagues in Charlottesville.
“It’s a close-knit family at UVA,” Bennett said Sunday, “because I think we appreciate how it has to be done there. There’s so many great coaches there.”
Four of his colleagues have won NCAA titles as head coaches: Brian O’Connor (baseball), Kevin Sauer (rowing), George Gelnovatch (men’s soccer) and Julie Myers (women’s lacrosse).
“I remember when I got the job [in 2009],” Bennett told reporters Sunday, “I said, ‘What’s the key to building a program?’ And I listened to them intently about finding guys that fit your system, your culture, and the culture of UVA.”
Whenever UVA’s head coaches meet, Myers said Sunday night, “You feel honored to be a part of it, and you feel blessed to be at a university with such great colleagues and great teams.”
Gelnovatch said: “I think all of us spend a lot of time picking each other’s brains, but mostly just listening. I listen to all of Tony’s interviews, and you can learn so much from what you’re hearing, whether it’s [in interviews or] head coaches’ meetings.”
The men’s soccer team played – and won — a spring game at Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon. On the bus ride home, Gelnovatch said, his team watched Virginia rally to defeat Auburn 63-62 in the first NCAA semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“It was awesome,” Gelnovatch said. “It was unbelievable.”
After the game, his players tweeted out a video of their raucous celebration. Other UVA teams posted celebratory videos on social media Saturday night, too. In Minneapolis, men’s basketball players enjoyed watching their peers’ reactions.
On our way back from a victory at Pitt and here is the bus reaction to the final free throw by @kylejguy5!
— Virginia Men’s Soccer (@UVAMenSoccer) April 7, 2019
“They were all screaming out of their minds when Kyle made that last free throw,” said sophomore Austin Katstra, who dates Laurel Ivory, a goalkeeper on the UVA women’s soccer team. “Just to see the support from them is really special to us, and hopefully everyone at school will give them the same support when they’re in that moment.”
Redshirt junior Mamadi Diakite said he’s “been hearing from a lot of people and a lot of soccer players, swimmers, football players. I’m cool with all of them, all of the sports. We’re just exchanging texts back and forth.”
Redshirt senior Jack Salt has friends on many other UVA teams, too. “They’re all just so excited,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that have put [work] into this, and Virginia athletics has done a lot for us. I feel like they’re a part of us as well, so for them to be along with us for the journey, all the other students, all the other Virginia [student-athletes], is just amazing.”
— Virginia Softball (@UVASoftball) April 7, 2019
The women’s lacrosse team played – and won – at Penn State on Sunday afternoon. The Cavaliers arrived in State College on Saturday afternoon and made it to Home D Pizzeria in time for the game.
“We watched the whole thing,” Myers said. “We definitely said ‘Wahoowa!’ a few times and exploded at the end. It was the best dinner experience we’ve had.”
Myers is a good friend of Laurel Bennett, Tony’s wife, and lives down the street from Jason Williford, associate head coach of the men’s basketball team.
“So I always text Jason and Tony before a big game,” Meyers said.
In South Bend, Ind., the UVA baseball team was scheduled to play the second game of its series with ACC rival Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon and the finale on Sunday afternoon. That would have allowed the Cavaliers’ coaches and players to tune into the Final Four game Saturday night.
Because of a scheduling change, however, UVA and Notre Dame played a doubleheader on Saturday that didn’t end until after Guy’s heroics in Minneapolis.
“We had no idea [about the drama unfolding at U.S. Bank Stadium],” O’Connor said, “because we were locked into playing two games.”
Virginia beat Notre Dame twice Saturday to clinch the series win. During the second game, O’Connor said, there was an announcement over the PA at the stadium that the Cavaliers had defeated Auburn, and “you could see our guys visually on the field show excitement. It was in an inning break, and I saw [freshman] Zack Gelof pump his fist, so that was pretty cool.
“Our guys were really excited, and after we won the doubleheader we talked about how pumped we were [for Bennett’s team].”
O’Connor said he texted Bennett after Virginia’s overtime win over Purdue in the Elite Eight.
“Just to have the correspondence back and forth and the support [of fellow coaches] is important,” O’Connor said. “All of us are busy in our own individual sports. With recruiting and everything, there’s a lot going on. But the times we’re able to get together, and the text messages of support we send, are important.”
O’Connor marveled at the incredible response on social media to Virginia’s win over Auburn. “It’s amazing what sports can do,” he said.
Aaron Smith is head coach of Virginia’s volleyball team. He’s been recruiting in Las Vegas but changed his flights and will head to Minneapolis on Monday for the NCAA championship game.
One of Smith’s players, Milla Ciprian, was one of four student-athletes who performed the national anthem before the UVA-Auburn game Saturday night.
After the Elite Eight game in which Diakite forced overtime with a last-second jumper, Smith’s players re-created the improbable sequence for a video that was widely circulated on social media.
— Virginia Volleyball (@UVAVolleyball) April 1, 2019
Smith, laughing, said he’s received “about 30 messages” from people wanting to see his players perform a similar video tribute to the dramatic ending of the UVA-Auburn game, in which Guy scored six points in the final 7.4 seconds.
Asked about Bennett, Smith said that “first of all, it’s really cool to have a peer of mine have his team playing at so high a level. And he’s so accessible to all the [other UVA] coaches. He’s in every meeting. He’s so down to earth.”
Smith said he’s texted Bennett a few times during this tournament, but “I know he’s busy, so I try not to bother him too much. He knows we’re thinking of him.”
Bennett appreciates the support, as do his players.
“It’s just such an exciting time right now,” Salt said.
“It’s been great,” Guy said. “I saw the videos of what Grounds was like [after the game Saturday night], and I couldn’t be happier for them.”