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Zag fan profiles: These Gonzaga graduates came to Indianapolis from all over the country to witness a potential national title

UPDATED: Fri., April 2, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS – The fear of missing out – a dread popularly known as “FOMO” in acronym form – had engulfed Gonzaga loyalists.

It was felt during a pandemic-altered season in which the top-ranked Bulldogs played in mostly fanless venues before the NCAA Tournament.

A year ago, when the coronavirus ultimately took away March Madness and Gonzaga’s potential run at a national championship, FOMO was realized on an unprecedented scale.

But as Gonzaga makes its march toward history and its first national championship when it faces UCLA on Saturday night in the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium, hundreds of navy blue-clad fans have put their lives on hold to witness the occasion in person.

“Bubbleville” Indianapolis, which has hosted the entire NCAA Tournament with 22% fan capacity, has helped provide that opportunity.

These longtime Gonzaga fans and graduates are taking advantage of the rare occasion.

Luck of the Irish: Even in a normal year, securing tickets to the McCarthey Athletic Center for a Gonzaga game is an arduous task.

Dan Irish, a 2003 Gonzaga graduate who grew up in the Spokane Valley, would often get his live Bulldogs fix by traveling to opposing venues during the regular season or postseason tournament.

Irish, who now works on a SWAT team in the Tri-Cities area with the Department of Energy, wasn’t about to miss Gonzaga’s run to a potential national title, even in these limited-capacity circumstances.

The Freeman High graduate made his vacation plans well ahead of time, put together a small group and made the long trek to the Midwest this week with fiancee Angelique Belt, fellow Gonzaga graduate Ryder Richardson and others.

“I want to be here for history,” said Irish, who plans to see Gonzaga cut down the championship nets on Monday. “It’s going to happen.”

Irish has been vested in the program since hootin’ and hollerin’ for the Bulldogs in its former venue, The Kennel, where he was often among the raucous Kennel Club contingent.

He has traveled to multiple NCAA Tournaments to see Gonzaga fall short of the tourney’s ultimate prize.

With this Gonzaga team, which has beaten its four tournament foes (Norfolk State, Oklahoma, Creighton and USC) by an average of 24 points, he expects his alma mater to reign supreme.

It won’t need much luck, according to the 39-year-old Irish.

“We’re doing it this year,” he said.

Zags recognize Zags: It took 2011 Gonzaga graduate Cathy Caputo all of 30 minutes in downtown Indianapolis on Friday to cross paths with her Bulldog ilk.

Wearing a team jacket from her days as a member of the Gonzaga cross country and track and field teams, Caputo generated a few “Go Zags” as she strolled through the city in anticipation of Saturday’s Final Four date with UCLA.

A local TV station on the street even recognized her Gonzaga attire and started to ask questions.

Caputo, who works in the tech industry in California, bought her Final Four tickets in June of last year, expecting a deep Gonzaga run after the 2020 tournament was canceled.

“After I saw the recruits Gonzaga was bringing in, I bought (the tickets),” said Caputo, one of several family members who earned their degrees from Gonzaga.

She will be watching the Final Four with her father and hopes to run into a few classmates.

“With the pandemic going on, I’m not sure how many (classmates) will be here, but I expect to see a few people I went to school with,” she said.

Taking the bus: Rory Rankin, a 1988 Gonzaga graduate, wanted to do two things: watch the Bulldogs attempt to win a national title and travel through much of the country.

The Georgia resident, sporting a classic Gonzaga letterman jacket, bought his NCAA Tournament tickets well before his Greyhound bus ticket.

Seven states and 18 hours later, Rankin arrived in Indianapolis on Thursday and attended Gonzaga’s open-to-the-public practice on Friday, taking in the experience in a cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium.

“This could potentially be our first national championship. This is the best chance we’ve had,” Rankin said. “Back when I was a Kennel Club member in the 1980s, we weren’t very good. Would get third or fourth in the (West Coast Conference).”

Rankin was a charter member of the Kennel Club and participated in cross country and track and field at Gonzaga.

Now a 21-year military veteran with a career in the Army, Rankin is getting the most out of his vacation.

“I’ve been taking a lot of pictures, seeing a lot of Gonzaga fans,” Rankin said. “It’s been fun.”

A tale of two allegiances: Chris Rappazini will more than likely have an alma mater win college basketball’s ultimate prize on Monday night.

Rappazini, who lives in Northwest Indiana just outside Chicago, earned his Ph.D. from Gonzaga in 2019.

A year ago, he finished his postdoctoral work at Baylor, which faces Houston on Saturday in the other Final Four game.

Gonzaga and Baylor have been the two championship favorites all season and are widely expected to meet in Monday’s championship.

Rappazini, a Moody Bible Institute faculty member and Florida native, met his wife, Ashley, during his four years in Spokane.

His heart belongs to the Bulldogs, but it wouldn’t break if Baylor won the title.

“More of my time and money went to Gonzaga than Baylor, so I’m more into Gonzaga,” Rappazini said with a laugh. “But I love them both.

“A championship would mean so much to either school. Both programs are led by solid, godly men in (coaches) Mark Few and Scott Drew.”

A family affair: Angie Delaney, a 1990 Gonzaga graduate, went to earlier rounds of the NCAA Tournament, drove 90 minutes back to her home in Cincinnati, Ohio, in time for Easter Sunday, and plans to be back in Indianapolis for Gonzaga’s potential appearance in the national title game.

The head of sales and marketing at a Cincinnati insurance company, the Bozeman, Montana, native has locked into Gonzaga basketball for decades, dating back to her parents, who are first-generation Zags.

Her daughter, Meggie Delaney, is a Gonzaga senior who has been watching the games from Spokane.

“This would have been my graduating class 30-year reunion, but COVID-19 hit,” Delaney said. “But this team has helped bring some happiness, especially to my daughter and her friends who couldn’t attend the games up there this season.”

Her family has several Gonzaga graduates, many who attended Gonzaga’s run to the national title game in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2017.

Four years later, Gonzaga is back in the Final Four, and a group of friends and family members will be present.

She credits Few for the return.

“He has made the difference. In a position of leadership, everyone should be doing what he is doing,” Delaney said. “Hard work, culture and chemistry lead to success.”

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