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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Friday, Apr. 21, 2017 1 year ago

Local girl wins NCAA basketball title

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Victoria Patrick graduated less than a year ago, then she won it all at South Carolina
by: Isaac Babcock Managing Editor

As the final seconds ticked away, Victoria Patrick leapt up and down on the vibrating hardwood floor, hands imploring the crowd for more cheers, louder, a look of ecstatic disbelief across her face. Roaring into the electric din of the American Airlines Center in the middle of Dallas on April 2, Patrick, less than a year since she left Edgewater High School, was about to become an NCAA champion.
That night, the University of South Carolina beat Mississippi State 67-55 to claim its first women’s basketball national title.
“It’s indescribable,” Patrick said of the moment the confetti exploded into the air. “It was just all excitement and joy and happiness.”
In that moment, what she called a dream was very real. But 40 minutes of game time earlier, it was at best improbable, a narrative of momentum and inevitability flipped on its head.
Just two days before, on a Friday night, Mississippi State had done what seemed to be the impossible, handing UConn its first loss in 112 games to boot them out of the NCAA tournament in the semifinal round. It was quickly speculated as the biggest upset in the history of women’s basketball, a last-second, buzzer-beating shattering of a streak so thrilling that even UConn head coach Geno Auriemma couldn’t help but smile.
Mississippi State, at the time with 34 wins and only four losses, had become the team of destiny.
Sunday night, as the clock hit zero, the University of South Carolina did what had suddenly seemed unlikely, despite a seeding advantage; they beat Mississippi State. They beat the miracle workers.  
“The first thing I did was look at my parents, looked at my dad,” Patrick said. “I wouldn’t be here without him. I wasn’t even going to come to this school. I wasn’t committed to this school. I ended up getting school offers that were very big for me, and I ended up coming here and I feel like it was all planned.”
As the crowd cheered, her parents walked down the steps from a few rows behind Patrick’s shoulder. Then they embraced on the arena floor.
It was an odd moment of déjà vu for the young South Carolina shooting guard. She’s been in this same position before at Edgewater.
In 2014, they had won the whole thing, a 54-34 walloping of Pensacola’s Pine Forest that followed four straight blowouts. The game was never close.
That was Patrick’s sophomore year, fresh off a transfer from University High School. She worked so hard in that preseason, she was on the varsity squad right away. Then they went all the way to Lakeland.
That was the third straight year the Eagles won the championship. After that, they haven’t won again, though they made deep postseason runs during Patrick’s junior and senior years.
After the win on the NCAA’s biggest stage in Dallas, her old coach, Malcolm Lewis, texted her congratulations. In a few weeks, she’ll be back home. She can’t wait to see her old friends again.
“When I get back home, I’ll say hi, we’ll talk for hours,” she said.
She’ll have quite the story to tell. A week after the big win, she was riding in a parade down Main Street of Columbia, South Carolina, along packed streets headed to the South Carolina State House.
“The parade on Sunday was ridiculous,” Patrick said. “I didn’t think that many people were going to come. It was like the whole city was out there. It was a lot of people.”
It was the first parade she’d ever been in.
“To see that many people show that they support us and that we’ve touched their lives in certain ways, it was very cool,” she said.  
In the spring sunshine on the State House steps, they named a street after Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley.
“Our town is a sports town; they love their sports,” Staley said after the win. “Certainly the fans have painted a picture of what a national champion looks like.”  
Although she’s still struck by the awe of it all, Patrick said she knows where her two championships have come from.
“It’s all hard work,” she said. “Throughout my whole life, it’s always been like that. It’s a ‘wow’ type of thing, but it’s still continuing.”
School’s almost over. In early May, the semester ends. Patrick will come home and say hi to those old friends and her old coach while she relaxes for a few weeks.
Then it’s right back to work.

Contact Isaac Babcock at
[email protected].

 

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