By Gaby Maniscalco*
ROME — Feelings of hope and anticipation fill the air each year as students at Villanova University, a Catholic university in Radnor Township, Pennsylvania, gather on campus to cheer on the Wildcats at the start of basketball season.
Avid sports fan or not, any Villanova University student can tell you the tale of the 1985 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game, which was the last time the Wildcats took home the NCAA tournament trophy.
The students embrace Villanova basketball as a part of campus culture that is instilled in them the moment they step on campus, and while the Cats have made the NCAA tournament the past few years, it’s been more than 30 years since they actually won the tournament or even made the Final Four. Yet, optimistic students consistently place Villanova at the center of their brackets.
So imagine what ran through my mind as a student abroad in Rome this semester while watching the Wildcats win game after game on a low-quality streaming service on my laptop when I’m used to being at games in person.
I mean, while we were truly happy that the team was doing so well, my friends abroad and I couldn’t help but feel pangs of jealousy as our friends at Villanova packed their bags to follow the team to Houston when the Cats progressed to the Final Four and ultimately the championship.
We wanted to complain that the team got this far the one semester we chose to go abroad, and at times we desperately wished that we could be there in person. But then we remembered that we’re living in Rome, having amazing experiences traveling, exploring and interning, and that we really shouldn’t be complaining at all.
Some of my friends studying in other countries felt the need to travel all the way home for the weekend to see the game. But in Rome, my classmates and I found that the deep-rooted sense of community at Villanova isn’t confined to campus borders. The hope and determination to win was felt strongly here, and we all came together as a Villanova family to watch the Cats however we could (even if that did mean spotty streaming services). We created our own Villanova home away from home.
By researching some local pubs, we were able to find a bar in the area that was willing to play the championship game for us. The Highlander Pub agreed to keep its doors open, even though the game was at a ridiculous hour. They even provided free popcorn!
The energy in the room was electric, as more than 30 of us piled into the pub clad in Villanova gear with painted faces at 3:19 in the morning, eager to watch our favorite team make history. The game was a wave of emotions, and with so many Villanova fans in one room sporting blue war paint it felt like we had never left campus. Everyone exploded when we won the game with a three-point buzzer-beater.
The staff at the Highlander allowed us to make their pub feel like home, and it was one of my favorite nights this semester. It made me realize how strong the Villanova spirit and culture really are, and although part of me would have loved to be in Houston or Villanova for the game, I am truly lucky to have experienced it Rome, as my abroad classmates and I will forever share unique memories from the historic game.
We realize just how blessed we are to be able to feel such a connection to our school even from over 4,000 miles away, and it’s something none of us will ever take for granted.
Besides, who says the Wildcats can’t do it again next year when I’m a senior and back on campus?
*Gaby Maniscalco is a junior majoring in communications at Villanova University. She hails from New Jersey and loves yoga, traveling and her mini-labradoodle. She is currently studying abroad at Roma Tre University, while interning at Catholic News Service’s Rome Bureau.