We’ve waited 21 years for this. Tonight, we are back!

tylerWatkinsRoamingThe Coastal Carolina Chanticleers are set to play in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament tonight at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC. It’s a night that we’ve been waiting on for 21 years.

When Coastal last visited the tournament, the expectations were high that Coastal would be back, and soon. With a new name, new colors, and a team that would return for the 1994 season, things looked promising for the school that had just broken away from the University of South Carolina system to form their own, Coastal Carolina University. And then the rumors began. CCU was being investigated for NCAA violations. While the team was on the road at Radford University, it all broke loose. The season would end on a sour note, and head coach Russ Bergman would leave the program. A new coach would take over and the Chanticleers would serve their punishment and attempt to rebuild.

It would be a slow process, and we would wait. Through head coach Michael Hopkins 6-20 first season, we sat and watched. It was a struggle, and I remember it well. As part of the radio broadcast team that year, we traveled with the team, and sat through each loss. After the probation was over, we’d say, things would improve.

During the 1995-1996 season, the Chants would do even worse, going 5-21. But we waited.

David Sides, Andy Hendrick, Wayne White, Chad Smith, Bo Graham, Allen Smothers, Stan Parker, Buddy Sasser, Lori White. All faces you would see in the crowd every game supporting their team. And of course, Coach Jess Dannelly always standing by the door on the side of the benches.

Year after year, coach after coach, we waited for that return trip to the NCAA tournament. None of us knew that it would be 21 years.

Through the four years of Michael Hopkins. Through the seven year Pete Strickland era, we had hope that this would be the year. Seven win seasons, 8 win seasons back to back and still, we came as fans and alumni and media, and faculty. We waited.

Remember the Buzz Peterson era? It began with a 20 win season but didn’t produce a conference championship or a return trip to the NCAA tournament. We’d just have to wait.

We sat there as Winthrop won four straight titles, twice. We sat through the 2006 Big South finals, where Winthrop beat us by one, 51-50. We sat through another finals loss in 2010 to Winthrop. And, with the Chants playing what was expected to be their final game ever in Kimbell arena, the 2011 Big South finals against Asheville should have set the stage for a magical send off into the HTC Center. Coastal should have won that game, but they didn’t. We’d have to wait. Next year, we’d say.

We sat through all Americans Torrey Butler, Pele Paeley, Jack Leasure, and Chad Gray. We watched Rodney Depre’, Moses Sonko, Joseph Harris, Anthony Raffa, and Kierre Greenwood give us their all, and fall short. Next year, we’d say.

We sat through a 28 win season with head coach Cliff Ellis, and then amazingly another one the following year, 2010-2011. Still, we waited to return to the NCAA Tournament, always falling short.

Tomorrow the Chanticleers take the floor in Raleigh, NC against the Virginia Cavaliers in the NCAA Tournament.

Most of the players on this team weren’t even alive the last time the Chanticleers went dancing. But, they’ll represent us. They’ll represent the season ticket holder that sat there year after year. They’ll represent the last coach to take our team to the tournament. They’ll represent KeKe Hicks, the guard on that team 21 years ago. They’ll represent the fans, the alumni, and the faculty.

The waiting is over. Tomorrow, we’ll all gather around our radios or televisions, slide into our seats in the stands, or our seats along press row at the PNC Arena. Tomorrow, the wait ends. The Chants are back. Regardless of the outcome, it’s a celebration. The destination has been achieved.

They say that life is a journey, not a destination. But tomorrow, we’ll celebrate the destination. It’s taken 21 years, but we’re back.

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