The UMBC Twitter Account and Sister Jean Seized the Spotlight
By Steven Toroni
The NCAA Tournament has always been about more than just basketball. The phrase “more than just a game” gets thrown around loosely, but any fan, journalist, or athlete will attest that the word “game” simply does not capture the emotion and magnitude of what some sporting events offer. In 2010 Butler, led by Gordon Hayward and coached by Brad Stevens, became the smallest school to make it to the NCAA Championship since Jacksonville in 1970. Coming within a score of winning against favored Duke capped off an historic run that would never be forgotten. The institution of Butler, specifically the Men’s Basketball Program, would never be the same again.
The nation gets behind an underdog and 2018 is providing a fantastic outlet for the programs that do not usually get exposure during the hard work of the regular season. The internet has beautifully given personality to two Universities over the weekend that have pulled off impressive and historic upsets that, thanks in part to social media, will not be forgotten.
UMBC Gains The Followers
The internet broke on Friday night. No, it was not the President talking about “Fake News” on Twitter or Rhianna blasting Snapchat for an ad that featured Chris Brown. In fact, the world was not captivated by celebrity lure at all on Friday, March 16. The history books were re-written and the hearts of millions were touched as No. 16 seed University of Maryland Baltimore County took down the 1 seed University of Virginia. The unprecedented event was the first time in the 79-year history of the NCAA Tournament that such an upset has taken place in the 64-team First Round. 15 kids that attend a school with only about 13,000 students shocked the Nation and Twitter erupted as a result, which put UMBC on the radar of millions of people.
PUT SOME RESPECK ON IT! WE HAVE DEFEATED NO.1 OVERALL SEED VIRGINIA 74-54
— UMBC Athletics (@UMBCAthletics) March 17, 2018
UMBC’s decisive 74-54 victory over the University of Virginia will go down as one of the greatest upsets, not just in College Basketball, but in the history of sports. UV was widely believed to be the favorite to take the Tournament as Sportsbook listed them as tied with Villanova at +550 odds of winning the whole thing. Perhaps even more polarizing in the world of sports media on Friday was the evolution of UMBC’s Twitter account. The school was put on the map thanks to the hip, savvy, and spirited tweets of Zach Seidel, who was responsible for the UMBC Athletics Twitter and gained over 35,000 followers in hours, as first reported by Slam Magazine. The tweets continued throughout the weekend as the Retrievers moved onto the second round, where they lost to Kansas State in the Round of 32. The student body, fanbase, and spectators that came along for the ride were enthralled with the social media buzz that Seidel created. UMBC fought hard in a low-scoring game against No. 9 Seed Kansas State. Nervous energy filled the air of Spectrum Arena and although UMBC fell short 50-43, they can hang their hats with confidence as that are the only team in 136 attempts to beat a top-seeded team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Ahh we remember this game at Maryland in December….hopefully you enjoyed our game from your couch dude! pic.twitter.com/qwRC9zSQuE
— UMBC Athletics (@UMBCAthletics) March 17, 2018
While the sports world was clamoring for the Cinderella story to continue into the Sweet 16, the allure of the UMBC Retrievers will live on in sports and sports media. Seidel made the most of the opportunity to shine through the resource of his smartphone and took a lot of heat in the process. During Friday night’s victory (and into the later hours of the night) Seidel’s enthusiasm rubbed some people the wrong way. There were criticisms of the Twitter handle representing the program in a condescending manner. Seidel, who was getting a lot of attention for obvious reasons, was able to compose himself and deflect the haters in a subtle way. The Twitter criticism of UMBC Athletics serves as a metaphor for the constant flak the NCAA gets as an institution. Whether it be the argument that athletes should be getting paid or the narrative that College Basketball struggles to draw good ratings because of the one-and-done mentality of the pro-ready athlete, there always seems to be negative press for the NCAA.
But the greatness of college sports was displayed on Friday night as Seidel was able to give UMBC its own identity and introduce the small school from Baltimore County to the world. Even the Warriors’ Stephen Curry recognized the greatness that UMBC captured with the iconic victory by gifting the team with Under Armour gear that had not yet been released. Curry, no stranger to unforgettable Tournament runs as he led Davidson to the Elite Eight in 2008, is endorsed by Under Armour, whose National Headquarters is located in Baltimore, Maryland- within 10 miles of UMBC. Under Armour, of course, endorses the Division One Athletics Program at UMBC and thanks to the Men’s Basketball team, Zach Seidel, and Steph Curry sales of UMBC Under Armour gear are going to skyrocket.
— UMBC (@UMBC) March 18, 2018
A 16 Seed that was supposed to just be happy to be a part of the Tournament made a name for themselves in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The organization made sports history and potentially changed the landscape of the entire program, which will see increased revenue due to this monumental 2018 for the Retrievers.
Loyola (Chi.) IL
15 of the 48 games played in the first two rounds were won by the underdogs, according to seedings. This included No. 13 Buffalo blowing out the number 4 seed Arizona. and the 13th seed, Marshall, beating No. 4 Wichita State, both in the first round. Yet another No. 1 seed went down in the second round as Xavier crumbled in the final minutes and No. 9 seed Florida State pulled off the stunner to go onto the Sweet 16.
Another program that made it to the Sweet 16 despite the odds being stacked against them was the 11th seeded Loyola-Chicago Ramblers. The Ramblers achieved two of the 15 upsets in the opening weekend of the tournament, knocking out No. 6 Miami (FL), and third-seeded Tennessee. Both wins came in dramatic fashion, as Senior Donte Ingram hit a three at the buzzer in the first round to propel Loyola-Chicago to a thrilling victory. It was after this victory that the world was introduced to Sister Jean, who built quite a reputation for herself over the weekend. The 98-year old Nun who has been affiliated with the school since 1994 had rarely missed a Ramblers game in recent memory until she started battling a hip injury. Prior to dealing with the aliment, Sister Jean could be found with the team before games to lead prayer. Some of the things she would pray for were referees to call a fair game, the players’ health and safety, and for the Ramblers to win, according to ESPN.
Sister Jean was an athlete herself and was instrumental in starting girls’ sports programs before beginning her career as a teacher at Mundelein University in 1960. She taught there until 1991 when the school merged with Loyola-Chicago, where she has been an intricate part of the University’s academic and athletic programs ever since.
Stats cannot measure what Sister Jean has done for this program. In a memorable moment after Friday’s victory, Sister Jean was wheeled onto the court where players greeted her in a riveting act of genuine emotion that somehow outdid Ingram’s last second game-winner. That kind of emotion can only be captured in the NCAA Tournament. Sister Jean gave the sports world a taste of the community at Loyola and gave a personality to an organization.
Since the Ramblers’ victory Friday night, Sister Jean has been involved in many interviews at the team hotel in Texas and even was acknowledged by President Obama via Twitter. Media once again succeeded in highlighting all that is good with college sports, as they were able to capture the thoughts and opinions of Sister Jean after Friday’s shocker. When asked about her national exposure by one reporter, Sister Jean was quick to add clarity to the situation: “Really, if I can correct you, international”
Sister Jean on becoming a national sensation: “Really, if I can correct you, international.” pic.twitter.com/JQP2Rj0P8S
— Lauren Comitor (@laurencomitor) March 18, 2018
Loyola-Chicago was able to yet again decide the outcome of the game in the final seconds of the second round against Tennessee as Clayton Custer, a redshirt Junior, hit a go-ahead jumper from the right elbow with 3.6 seconds remaining. Along with the charisma of Sister Jean, the entire program is now recognized on a global scale for their efforts. A school that otherwise would be unheard of by even residents of the state of Illinois, now has an identity.
The Ramblers will face the No. 7 seed Nevada on Thursday and thanks in part to Sister Jean, along with the heroics of a resilient basketball team, the world will be watching to see if the epic underdog story can continue. It is the culture and relatable community that comes along with an underdog like Loyola-Chicago and UMBC that makes the NCAA Tournament unlike any other sporting event. Despite the critics the NCAA can’t seem to shake, stories like these preserve the prestige of collegiate athletics.