LEWISBURG, Pa. - As the Sojka Pavilion game clock ticked down Friday night, there was a feeling in the air.
All those Sojka Psychos clad in trademark orange and occupying the north and south ends of the court, chanted, "This is our house. This is our house."
And with a couple minutes remaining, a woman seated a couple or three rows behind the Bucknell bench started to wave her sign. "We're going to the dance again." The sign: orange, of course.
If it wasn't clear at that point, it was perfectly clear when the Sojka clock reached zero and hundreds of fans stormed the court in joyous celebration.
"Mom? Mom, do you see us on TV?" a student shouted into her cellphone. "We're all on the court."
In the stands, a small boy, maybe six years of age, maybe seven, watched the celebration and piped up without prompting to someone who could have been his dad, "This is the best day of my life."
I don't know who he was but it is safe to say it was a great day for a lot of people. Bucknell had just beaten Holy Cross 74-59 to repeat as Patriot League champions. The victory meant a ticket to the dance. The Big Dance.
Said coach Pat Flannery in The Boston Globe: ''We're proud to win the league, that's where we are now," when asked his thoughts on where the Bison might end up. ''To do it against Holy Cross, who we've had so many battles with and have so much respect for, we're just proud of that right now."
Being on the floor with all those Sojka Psychos one notices that the only difference between most of them is that some use less orange than others - as in orange body paint, orange hair, orange clothing, and orange hats, including orange construction hats and orange cheese wedges.
But they are a hardy lot.
In order to get admission to this league title game, they had to be line earlier in the week to wait for the ticket window to open at 6 a.m. Among the several hundred waiting in the pre-dawn darkness was Christopher Stonesifer, a first-year ROTC student, who had been in the line since about 10 p.m. the night before with a sleeping bag in the 20-plus-degree temperatures.
As he explained it, he had to be first in order to be on time for the daily 6 a.m. ROTC run. Once he had his ticket in hand, off he ran with his sleeping bag to catch up with the Army grey shirts. The others didn't have the same urgency. They just needed the ticket.
As Bison senior and co-captain Kevin Bettencourt told The Salem (Mass.) News the day before the Holy Cross game: "It's been crazy here. The school is going through this for the first time and the attention has been a lot of fun. Students camping out ... it had to be a first at Bucknell. I know I had never seen anything like that in my four years."
Nervous? The Daily Item of Sunbury, Pa., told about how Flannery and Bettencourt spent the hours before Friday night's game. They shared stories from their playground days, watched TV to pass the time and keep each other from recognizing the nervous tension that was building in both of them. "I said to him that I saw his knees knocking and that he was doing that way too early," Flannery joked. "He said, `Yours are too.'" Four hours later, they were sharing hugs, celebrating their second consecutive league title with their coaches, teammates, and a few thousand of their closest friends.
Charles Lee, Patriot League Player of the Year, said in an Associated Press story in the Houston Chronicle: "I definitely feel relieved. We always say don't let the pressure get to you. But it's hard to not listen to the media, it's all over. I came in very nervous."
Now there's the waiting - the waiting to find out who and where they play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. That happens Sunday evening and the Forum in the Elaine Langone Center will be open to all fans in the community to watch with the Bison league champs as they learn who they'll face. The CBS broadcast begins at 6 p.m. (E).
By the way, the 26-member Bucknell pep band, which could not be gathered in time for the 2005 NCAA Tournament due to spring break, is standing by. They're packed, primed and ready to go to wherever the NCAA selection committee sends the Bison.
By Sam Alcorn
Post March 11, 2006