By Errin Haines Whack
PHILADELPHIA — Villanova fans descended on downtown Philadelphia on Friday to cheer their NCAA championship basketball team, flooding the city in a raucous sea of blue.
Thousands of people filled Market Street and Dilworth Park to celebrate Villanova’s victory over North Carolina in Monday night’s final. Chants of “Let’s Go, Nova!” grew louder as the team made its way along the five-block parade route toward City Hall.
Senior Jordyn Gaines said campus this week has been “absolutely insane.”
Her friend Caitlin Duggan called the championship “the perfect ending, for our year to be their year.”
“We rose up with the team,” she said. “I can still remember being a freshman and rushing the floor … when we beat Syracuse.”
Fans lined up 10-deep on some city sidewalks and blue and white confetti fluttered between office buildings as the players passed by, tossing T-shirts into the crowd from a double-decker bus. Others caught the celebration passing by from office building windows and lobbies.
The parade capped an emotional week for the Roman Catholic university in the city’s western suburbs. Classes were canceled the day after the big win and for Friday’s festivities.
“A lot of teachers have been joking that class is done,” Gaines said.
Jared Dawson, a 2015 Villanova grad, took the day off and came down from New York City to celebrate with fellow alums. On behalf of his class, Dawson took partial credit for the team’s victory, saying, “We laid the groundwork.”
Philadelphia sports fans have been yearning for a chance to celebrate. The city’s four major pro teams have been mediocre to terrible of late. The Phillies were the last to win a title — in 2008.
Villanova’s last title came in 1985, and the city threw a parade in their honor then, too. Coach Jay Wright predicted the drought won’t last as long going forward.
“We are a city of champions again. I promise you this is just a warmup,” he said.
The Wildcats beat North Carolina thanks to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by junior forward Kris Jenkins.
He explained how to coach kids to make shots like his clutch game-winner.
“Just tell them one, two, step and let it fly!” Jenkins told the roaring crowd at City Hall.
Senior cheerleader Raquel Doke said she was touched that the team arrived back home Tuesday to find fans honking their horns, waving flags from overpasses and making “V” signs.
“I got tears in my eye just to see the entire city of Philadelphia just rooting for us and so proud of us,” said Doke, 21, of Manhattan Beach, Calif.