Nate Waggenspack: Flying high with University of Dayton

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In 2007, I was trying to decide on a school to attend, and my mom made me visit her alma mater, the University of Dayton, because we could do it without really traveling, and I needed to get out and visit more schools, she said.

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Nate Waggenspack

UD was the local college, just 15 minutes away from home and therefore not an option I was excited about. I saw myself jet-setting to somewhere far away and having a grand adventure, only seeing my family during the big holidays and summer.

But then we went on the tour and saw the dorms, and UD no longer felt like something I was doing to oblige my mom. Then Dayton offered me a pretty significant chunk of scholarship money, and I ended up going to school in the one state I hadn’t considered an option: Ohio.

I had an awesome four years at UD, and I can’t imagine having been anywhere else during that time. Among a myriad of unforgettable experiences I have from Dayton, following the men’s basketball team is right up there among the best.

Dayton is a unique sports town because it’s a big city compared to Craig, but not compared to Cleveland or Cincinnati. It’s not big enough to have major sports happening downtown. There’s no major college football or professional sports around — you’ve got to travel for those.

But sports still are huge in Dayton. It’s why the city has a single-A minor league baseball team that has sold out nearly 1,000 straight games, a U.S. record. And it’s why everybody knows and cares about what’s happening with the Flyers.

During my sophomore year, UD made the NCAA Tournament as an 11 seed and beat West Virginia in its first game, giving Dayton its best season in years. Other than that, during my lifetime, UD mostly has come up short of lofty expectations.

Craig ended up being the grand adventure I thought I’d take in college. I see my family and friends during the major holidays and that’s about it. But for the past week and a half, I’ve been more connected to UD and home than maybe ever before.

Dayton is somehow into the Elite Eight of the men’s basketball tournament, picking up wins against Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford. The team has been winning the type of games it always has lost in the past and playing beautiful, smart basketball in the process.

There have been two street-closing riots on campus after the wins and the president of the university went crowd-surfing during one of them. In my opinion, there’s probably no better place to be in the country right now.

Even for me, though 1,400 miles away, it’s been so much fun. I’m getting calls and texts from friends who don’t care about sports at all that are getting caught up in the Flyers’ run. My dad has checked in a couple times to see if I’m still breathing.

I loved my time at UD because it felt like I was part of something totally unique there. Now as a graduate three years removed from my time there, living far away, I’m absolutely certain of it.

Dayton will take on Florida on Saturday for a shot at the Final Four. Just like I didn’t think UD could beat Syracuse, I don’t expect a win in this game. But it hardly matters what happens against the Gators. I’ve never been more proud to be a Flyer.

Contact Nate Waggenspack at 970-875-1795 or nwaggenspack@craigdailypress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CDP_Sports.

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