Sunday, March 3, 2024

Saint Mary College Men's Basketball 23-24 season


Have your heard about my new obsession??  It's men's college basketball.  Namely, the Saint Mary's Gaels.

Do you know how much it costs to go to a Warriors Game?  The absolute nose bleed seats on a random Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks run more than $150 a piece. Tickets on the first level are over $500 and tickets in roughly the 4th row are going for over $1000.  Just for kicks let's check out this week's game against the Lakers..nosebleeds $250, 1st tier up to $900, 4th row..$2500! And did you also know the average cost to park your car at Chase Center is $170? Anyway, the prices are nuts, especially for a third place team with barely a .500 winning percentage. The players make oodles of money and some of them are not very well behaved which makes paying this much to see them even less appealing. Where can the average sports fan go see an exciting team play basketball without completely breaking the bank?!!

Go to Moraga.

Saint Mary's College is a small Roman Catholic liberal arts school in Moraga, CA.  Many people living in the San Francisco Bay Area have not even heard of Moraga, let alone Saint Mary's College.  The undergraduate enrollment at SMC is just over 2000 students, which is actually about the same size as my children's high school.  For being such a small school, we know plenty of people that went there, and my son is currently a sophomore.  We took him along on a tour with my older daughter while he was in 8th grade, and after that, SMC is where he said he wanted to go to school.

Believe it or not, Saint Mary's College is a D1 athletics school.  You would think that such a small school would have difficulty fielding competitive athletic teams.  Well, I don't know much about that, because those Gaels can sure play themselves some basketball.

The Gaels (The Gaels are an ethnolinguistic group native to Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man--thank you Wikipedia) has been led by Coach Randy Bennett since 2001.  In his time with the Gaels, Mr. Bennett has a winning percentage of .711, with nine NCAA Tournament appearances and three WCC (West Coast Conference) championships.  Bennett has also been named the WCC Coach of the Year for the last two years. Not too shabby for a school with 2000 undergrads.  Bennett will be the coach of the Gaels until at least 2027, much longer I hope. From what I can observe, Bennett attracts athletes who are team players.  There is no superstar on this team, rather, all seem to contribute generously.  On several occasions this year, when I attended games the point spread was such that the third string was able to get into the game. The starters, now on the bench, cheered them on as if it was a two point game.  These boys play their hearts out for Randy Bennett, their teammates, and their school, and it is infectious.  

From behind the Gaels bench..

The Gaels play in the West Coast Conference, otherwise known as the WCC.  This conference has a presence of strong competition in teams such as the USF Dons and the powerhouse Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Gaels are currently 15-0 in WCC play this season with a 16 game win streak. We have been to 5 games this year at University Credit Union Pavilion and the Gaels have won all of them, usually by a sizeable margin.  By the end of every game I am exhausted from the cheering and the excitement.  It doesn't help that the game starts at 8 pm, and now it's past 10pm and my bedtime.  The season didn't start out so well, though.  The Gaels suffered some hard losses early in the season to mediocre teams like Boise State, Weber State and Missouri State and when we went to their December 29th game against Kent State, their record was a dismal and disappointing 9-6. That night they killed Kent State 66-46, and they have not lost a game since.  Last night the Gaels clinched the championship of the WCC, with one more conference game to be played against Gonzaga this weekend.

Courtesy of Instagram
Congratulations, Gaels!!

One cool thing about SMC being such a small school is that the players are actually in class with my son and have been known to attend the same social events.  The mascot, Gideon the Gael, a fearsome looking thing I must say, is friends with my son.  When I went to Cal, I had know idea who or what was under that Oski costume.

The fierce Gideon likes moms too!

Anyway lets talk about the venue.  University Credit Union Pavilion (formerly McKeon Pavilion) is a 3500 seat arena, which is pretty small by college basketball arena standards.  UCU opened in 1978.  Apparently, thank you again Wikipedia, both its size and its age are a bone of contention.  There are some plans to knock out some walls and add 1000 seats, but this project has no funding (interesting considering how much this school costs!) so it does not look like it will happen any time soon.  Anyway, the tightness of the space and a very invigorated student section can really pump up the volume, making UCU one of the tougher venues for an opposing team.

Bleacher general admission seats for non-conference games were 30$ this year, conference games 35$, higher demand games, like USF 50$.  When school was not in session, lower general admission was available at the same prices, putting the general public into what was usually the student section.  Seats with backs are considerably more and are on the opposite side from the students. At conference games, one needs to take care to get there early enough to hold desirable seats a few rows back.  From the first few rows it is difficult to see the basket through the heads of the student section.  At the USF game, we got there a full 60 minutes before the game started, parked jackets on our seats and headed out to the cozy Vieira Family Courtyard where pizza, beer, hot dogs, clam chowder, popcorn, wine, and cocktails, are available, as well as heat lamps and a big screen TV, playing the days most important match ups.

Parking is available for 20$, just a short walk from the arena.

Anyway, super worth it.  It's been an exciting season and I was happy to have shared a small part of it.  Next week, on to the WCC tournament in Las Vegas and then onto the NCAA Tournament!

Well, this wasn't exactly travel, but I had been spending so much time in Moraga watching these kids tear it up, I thought I'd better write about it. 

Well, here is a post script.  I tried my darndest to get this post off before the game against Gonzaga was played but I ran out of time.  Last night the Gaels lost handily to the Bulldogs, ending their 16 game winning streak and perfect record in conference play.  I am still a little sad about it.  They won't play again until the WCC tounament, in a little over a week. :(

Here are some pictures!, 

Gaels on Replica Jersey Giveaway Night against USF

Gael Family on the same night, also "Paint Moraga Red" night

Lower GA seats on December 29th

A common happy sight this season!

courtesy of Instagram
One more shout out to the team!!

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