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A Xavier fan tries to process the last two seasons

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A guest writer comes in to try walk through what we are all feeling. It’s a long read, but it’s excellent.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Xavier vs Florida State
It felt a lot like this
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Pretty much every day during the season someone sends us an email. Most of the time, they are pretty standard in content. It’s a Butler fan who hates something I wrote and therefore hates me as a person, a Providence fan who hates something Joel wrote and therefore him as a person, or a fellow Xavier fan popping in to correct something or add a thought. Like most emails, these get moved through pretty quickly in the pace of the day. Today, though, Mary Dulle wrote something a little different. Half open letter, half diary entry, it’s a worthwhile look at the somewhat fragile mindset of a Xavier fan right now. Without any further ado, I’ll turn it over to her.

Musings of a Muskie fan… Part 1 Team 95 (3-29-17)

Alas, another Xavier Basketball season has come and gone. Much like the ending of all of the previous seasons that I can remember in my lifetime, I find myself yet again suffering a nasty postseason hangover that settles in usually a week after the last game and ails me until the next season slowly and painfully rolls back around.

Something funny happened to me near the end of this season, though, that reminded me why I feel this all too familiar hangover season after season and why I will forever be chomping at the bit come each October to watch my Muskies play at Cintas again.

Perhaps I am only speaking personally, but I think sometimes I lose sight of the true meaning of the word “fan”. Surely the people who know me well would call me an enthusiastic fan of Musketeer Basketball. Maybe enthusiastic isn’t quite strong enough though... other words that come to mind include, but certainly are not limited to: intense, loyal, passionate, fierce, crazy, unwavering, and extreme.

Following the Muskies has been a significant and emotionally time-consuming hobby of mine since elementary school, and it is something that I have always taken probably a little more seriously than I should - or would care, to admit. That’s what “fans” do, right? I live and die with my Muskies.

That brings me back to my point. The word fan is, of course, short for the word fanatic. Fanaticism can be defined as “being filled with excessive and single-minded zeal”. Do I hear myself in that definition? Let’s break it down.

First, am I excessive in my fanhood? As far back as I can remember, one of my favorite things to do at the beginning of every new season was to get a program (you know, those little booklets with each player’s picture and stats) and begin memorizing the names and numbers of all the new players. My dad and I would sit at the first couple games of every season quizzing one another on our knowledge of all of the new guys. (Hey dad, remember Boubacar Coly? Churchill Odia? Johnny Wolf?) Ah, how times have changed though right? Now we know about all of these players, including names, jersey number, and stats months before they even step on the court at Cintas for the first time. Hell, we can even watch highlights of them on the internet.

This, then, leads me to think of all of the time I spend during the season reading various blogs and columns (re: anything Shannon Russell/@slrussell) about Musketeer Basketball. This is a habit that I have picked up only in the last couple of seasons, but it has quickly become one of my favorite things about following my favorite team. My blog of choice to follow for all the current and up to date facts is Banners on the Parkway. [ed. note: Mary was not paid for this endorsement.] Whether it be the “Pre-Duel Pleasantries” or the “Three Takeaways” after a game, this blog is pivotal to how I obtain close to 95% of my informed and trustworthy Xavier Basketball info. The only person who really “benefits” from this excess knowledge and subsequent word vomit of unnecessary facts and stats about a certain player or game always happens to be my dad, but we live and let live, right? So am I excessive? Probably. Side note: if you’ve ever been part of or around one of my wild Xavier rants, then you know exactly what I am talking about.

Next, defining whether my fandom falls under the category of “single-minded zeal” is a little trickier. Do I focus on the Muskies at the expense of anything else? Although that sounds a teensy bit dramatic, given that I am a rational, responsible, working adult who has other things to worry about, I will say that my mind can get on that one-track ride of ups and downs, especially when my team is either doing really well or really poorly (and let’s be honest, no other season before has painted this picture more clearly than the one that just concluded). So for the sake of clarity, I will focus more on the question of “have I experienced single-minded zeal?”. No brainer- absolutely, yes. For example, after the Musketeers lost to Kansas State in 2010, I didn’t think I would ever recover. Without being too full of pride to admit it, I was flat-out emotionally distressed. For a period of time, I couldn’t focus on anything other than the blow of what would irrefutably have been considered one of the most iconic wins in program history. Instead, it goes down as a classic NCAA tournament game that a lot of Xavier fans live to forget. Do I forget the heroics of Crawford and Holloway? Hell no. But at that specific moment in time, I was heartbroken. Did I really just use the word “heartbroken” to describe an emotion about a sporting event? Yes, yes I did.

To illustrate this part of my exploration into being a fan on a happier note, I will explain the “single-minded zeal” that engulfed me after Xavier upset Arizona a week ago. This is, after all, the exact instance that got me thinking about fanaticism in the first place. I was in bed watching the game on my phone. (Thanks for changing the cable, dad!) I am a teacher, so getting myself to stay awake after a long day AND knowing work was looming in 5 short hours was no easy feat - but I knew it had to be done. Would a true fan miss it? I had to see my Muskies beat Sean Miller and the esteemed Wildcats.

I am not going to recap the game because true fans know, it was amazing (shout-out: Sean O’Mara), and even saying that doesn’t do it enough justice. As I watched Malcolm Bernard dribble the ball down court with time running out, I could feel the adrenaline in my body about to burst out of me. I sat in my bed literally shaking from head to toe. That has to be what pure elation feels like, right? I snuck into my parents room as quietly as I could to tell my dad the news. “We did it”, were the only words I could manage.

I rode that adrenaline high all through the next day, explaining to my students and my co-workers (anyone who would listen, really) that absolutely nothing could bring me down after a win like that. Did I think about work much that day? I’ll be honest, no, I didn’t. I couldn’t stop reading article after article (splash in a few tweets, too) explaining how my Muskies shocked the country with their triumph over tournament favorite Arizona. Single-minded zeal; in all ways.

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Musings of a Muskie fan… Part 2 Team 96 (3-19-18)

Reading my thoughts from last year today hurt my heart. It ripped the temporary bandaid off that I already put on the wound at 11pm last night. I needed to try to stop the bleeding before I bled out - you know, metaphorically. How can it possibly be that just a year ago at this time I was feeling so impassioned and excited about the Muskie’s season and postseason run, and yet today find myself on the complete opposite end of that spectrum? Fandom, you fickle bastard.

I am disheartened. I am upset. I am heartbroken, again (Site: K-State 2010 and Ohio State 2007). I am at a loss for words, really. I’m just sad. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want this to be over. For myself, selfishly. For the competitive athlete I used to be and re-discover in myself at different times (much like this one). For the senior athletes, who I have so enjoyed over the past 4 years. For my alma mater. For anyone else who loves something as much as I love watching Xavier play basketball. It sucks.

I’ll be as frank as I possibly can. I’ll try to put this swarm of emotions into words that have weight, that make sense, and that may help me to swallow this bitter pill eventually. I have a lot of feelings about this particular season. First, I didn’t want to have to live up to the high expectations that we set for ourselves this year. I know that sounds bad but hear me out… and please, don’t take this as me saying I didn’t want to be as successful as we were. Winning an outright Big East Regular Season Conference Championship was amazing; a true accomplishment since the re-alignment. Something I was able to witness firsthand, and still have my Providence tickets saved in my room as a momento. That being said, I just knew (and feared) with success would come implied expectations and pressure. And unfortunately, because of that, margin for error would be very small and I anticipated that an end would hurt way worse than normal (site: Wisconsin 2016). I was right, it does - it hurts BAD. I’m low-key depressed.

Continuing on this rant, I also didn’t want a number 1 seed. Honestly, I really didn’t. Crazy huh? Ten-year-old me would have told you that you were lying if I was told someday we would get the ultimate seed in an NCAA tournament - a number 1. I just wouldn’t have believed you. Absolutely inconceivable; the mid-major, A-10 dominating Muskies at the top. It would have seemed like a sick joke, you know?

Personally, I wanted to be the underdog that we’ve always been in March. Fighting for our lives. Flying by the seat of our pants. Proving the critics wrong. (Gotta love a good cliche) Playing with a desperation that only an underdog can truly comprehend. That’s comfortable to me. Those have been the exact circumstances in which Xavier has shined through the years (Site NCAA appearances: 2008, 2009, and 2017). That is when the wins felt the best; when really, we had nothing to lose. We could just go out and let our play speak for itself. Maybe that’s why the Gonzaga loss last year didn’t leave such a bad taste in my mouth? Those were the days...

I swear, I’ve been nervous since before the Big East tournament even started. I’ve had almost a feeling of dread creating what has to be a now golf ball sized ulcer (kidding, maybe) in my stomach, all leading up and culminating in the loss that I can’t rationalize from last night. Side note: Can an ulcer rupture?

It almost feels like a bad dream. And yet, that would be better. This is real. Did I mention this sucks?

This team was good. Probably one of the best I’ve ever seen as a Musketeer fan - if not THE best; and I’ve seen some good teams (re: Crawford and Holloway, Doellman and Duncan, Raymond and Brown, Burrell and Lavender, Cage and Cole, Reynolds and Farr, etc.) Depth. Athleticism. Chemistry. Versatility. Offense. Intensity. Heart. Experience. All the characteristics that any fan drools over in their favorite team. We had all of those things. Oh, and did I mention we had one of the steadiest (I think that’s the best word) players that has ever worn a Xavier uniform in Trevon Bluiett; as a senior? And not only him, but THE most competitive basketball player I’ve ever seen in Macura; a marginal athlete that separates himself with a killer’s mentality at all times? Yeah, ask me my opinion - we had it all.

That nagging voice in my head that I’ve been actively trying to ignore is already loudly repeating to me: This was our chance. Our year. Our opportunity to break through. To get that elusive Final 4. And in the cruelest twist of fate, we are done after the first weekend. Significantly underperforming for how high the expectations probably were in Xavier Nation’s collective heart. I’m crushed. I’m mad. I’m confused. I feel terrible for the players, the coaches, the fans, MYSELF. What just happened? I am absolutely, without a doubt, inconsolable in this moment.

And yet… although this postseason hangover might hit me harder than other years, might be incurable in the short-term with my normal fixes, and might leave me with several unanswerable, frustrating questions; my post from last year did remind me of one very important thing: I will be chomping at the bit come October to watch my Muskies play at Cintas again. I am a proud Musketeer basketball fan and I always will be - in the good times and the bad. Despite this crushing and temporary blow, that is the one thing I do know for sure.