Connecticut basketball fans have lots to look forward to as the NCAA tournament begins. UConn is back in the big dance for the first time since 2016, but they’re not alone. The University of Hartford is dancing too, and while fans are separated on campus, they’re united in their excitement.
Students, cheering in a socially distant way, embraced the moment as the team won the America East Championship Tournament on Saturday. In the process, the Hartford Hawks achieved something the University of Hartford has sought for decades; a spot in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“You could hear all the cheering from across the quads and it’s great seeing them do so well especially in these challenging times,” said University senior Meghan Anderson.
University president Gregory Woodward says he’s received messages from alumni from all over the world expressing support. In a year when the school has faced adversity simply conducting classes, he says watching the team earn this opportunity was inspiring.
“The resolve and energy and dedication of those basketball players just seem to me to embody the entire university spirit through this whole year,” said Woodward.
It’s not just the university feeling the energy. Pratt Street in Hartford is proudly flying the banner, and various buildings will be lit in red tonight. On campus, students say, university spirit is at an all-time high.
“We all talk in class secretly. Like, ‘are you watching the game? What are you doing for the game?’ Everybody is super excited,” said Abby Nash.
You won’t see huge gatherings, pep-rallies or even a watch party on the University of Hartford campus Friday. Make no mistake about it though, the Hartford Hawks first tournament game will be widely viewed.
“We can’t see each other or come into each other’s rooms. But we all know that when that game is on, will be watching it,” said Nyrik Antoine, explaining that students are connected by the game.
As for the game itself, the 16th seeded Hawks have a tough draw, facing the number one seed Baylor. Only once in tournament history has a 16 beaten a number one, but Hartford fans are unafraid.
“Big upset coming. That’s all I’m going to say,” said Antoine.
He’s not the only one who believe the Hawks could pull it off.
“I know a lot of people have talked about us like, ‘oh Baylor, you’re going to lose!’ All of us are like, ‘underdog story,’” said Nash.
Woodward says he is excited about the opportunity and knows the team will play hard.
“They will make us proud,” he said, “However it goes, they’re winners.”
The game is scheduled to tip-off at 3:30 p.m. on Friday.