For Princeton student-fans, cheer coach, this March Madness run a big moment too
LOUISVILLE – Ryan “C.C.” Champeau paraded around the lobby of the Hyatt Regency in downtown Louisville, drawing requests for high-fives and selfie poses every couple of strides.
Clad in a furry Tiger costume, the face-painted Princeton University senior from Rumson drove through the night with three fellow students to see Princeton take on Creighton in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. They left at 3 a.m. and rolled into the lobby, which was mobbed with jubilant Princeton fans and alums, just prior to a giant pep rally there.
“No sleep,” she said. “This has been legendary. Growing up, I always wanted to go to a school with a lot of school spirit. There is a stereotype that Princeton doesn’t have it, that we’re always in the library. I think March Madness, this whole journey, has proved that wrong.”
Champeau was joined on the journey by her sister and fellow Rumson-Fair Haven High School graduate Kesley Champeau, a sophomore, as well as sophomore Jodie De Jesus (of Summit) and junior Austen Mazenko (of Colorado).
“Want to know where I’ll be this Friday? I’ll be doing my thesis… in Louisville!” Louisville is about to be 🔥. What a send off for the @PrincetonMBB team as they get ready for the sweet 16. #MarchMadness @PIX11Sports @PIX11News @Princeton pic.twitter.com/PiyKkFi3q8
— Joe Mauceri (@TheSportsGuyJoe) March 22, 2023
Mazenko also donned a Tiger outfit.
“They have the best Princeton pride ever,” Kelsey Champeau said.
On Wednesday, during the send-off pep rally for the team at Jadwin Gym, the Tiger-clad Ryan Champeau was filmed by news crews bellowing that she was bringing her senior thesis with her to Louisville. The thesis is a 50-page research paper that is the capstone project for all Princeton seniors and due in mid-April; her topic is the achievement gap in education based on socioeconomic factors.
Shortly after the video aired, the dean of Princeton’s School of Public and International Relations, where she studies, announced a one-week extension on thesis deadlines.
“I wonder if that’s because (of the video),” she said.
Even Princeton students who otherwise never noticed sports got caught up in March Madness.
“We were at dinner and someone said, ‘What is a seed?’ I don’t know what a seed is, but I want to know,’” Ryan Champeau said. “She had never followed basketball before. It’s amazing...to see the community come together over this.”
Cheer coach’s hard-earned perspective
For Princeton cheerleading head coach Claudia Ralph, the Sweet 16 is a full-circle moment. Ralph, who hails from Hillsdale in Bergen County, attended Pascack Valley High School and Seton Hall University. At the Hall, she was on the cheerleading squad and worked her way up to captain as a senior in 2019-20.
“I was there in the golden age,” she said, referencing four straight NCAA Tournament seasons for the Pirates. Alas, that last one ended in heartbreaking fashion, canceled by the onset of the pandemic just as Seton Hall was set to get a No. 3 or No. 4 seed and a local path though Albany to the Sweet 16.
“Yeah, 2020 me would be shook to know I actually made it to the Sweet 16, but not in the way I thought,” Ralph said.
That, however, arms her with great perspective to impart upon her charges.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” she said. “This is what everybody dreams of. This is the pinnacle for a school like Princeton.”
That vibe was reinforced by the scene in the Hyatt lobby Friday evening, when hundreds of orange-clad alums and fans lined up for a pep rally led by the cheerleaders and school band, thundering their applause as Princeton’s players and coaches descended the escalator, walked through the lobby, out the doors and onto the team bus, headed for destiny.
“For our cheerleaders, this is the biggest stage we’re going to step on, probably ever,” Ralph said. “Take every opportunity that you can to savor the moment.”
Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and the college basketball beat since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 voter. Contact him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Princeton March Madness run big moment for fans, cheer coach