Grateful Havocs head to The Big Dance, screaming and leaping to Spokane

At 4:30 a.m. today, student Grace Schmaltz lept from bed.

“Jumping for joy,” she said.

Schmaltz and 173 of her closest Grand Canyon University friends, also known as the Havocs, were so excited they got up extra early to board the 7:30 a.m. bus leaving campus for a charter flight to Spokane, Washington, where the men’s basketball team plays Saint Mary’s Friday night in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament. Sixty-five left earlier on commercial flights.

The Havocs have created a high profile heading into their third appearance at the NCAA tournament on TV screens across the U.S.

Let’s just say they are dramatic.

Even at 7 a.m., the Havocs' show their excitement for tonight's game.

“I cried when I got the text that we were going,” said Schmaltz’s friend, Jenna Reichert, on being among the first of nearly 1,000 students to respond to a Havocs Instagram post offering a trip to the game.

“I screamed,” said Rachel Piluski.

“I started shaking,” said Colin Stewart.

 Leaping, crying, screaming, shaking? Sounds like Havocs. And that’s why GCU thinks they are special enough to pay for their trip to Spokane.

Maddie McClelland of the student GCU Street Team hands out "Let's Dance GCU" T-shirts to Havocs loading up for a trip to the NCAA tournament.

“It’s cool to see how many groups of students come together for one cause and rally behind the team and University,” said Melanie Schissel, assistant director of marketing and fan engagement for GCU Athletics.

“Something like this, it is very clear that our president, Brian Mueller, really means what he says when he says our students come first. They are the priority. You feel it on campus and on something like this, when the priority is to get all the students who are crazy and fun and wild and who have been here all season the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Schissel should know. The 2017 graduate was a Havoc even before GCU became a Division I program.

Havocs are ready for The Big Dance.

Nearly 10 years ago, students were attracted to games with prizes, and some went the extra mile and painted faces, dressed up and, above all, yelled like crazy. They helped launch the Havocs and a claim, “The Biggest Party In College Basketball,” at home games. This year, college basketball expert Andy Katz named them one of the top 10 student sections in the country, rivaling heavyweights such as Duke.

Their volume and antics caught the attention of opposing coaches and media over the years, including at last year’s NCAA tournament in Denver.

“We have such a great student body. They are just good kids,” Schissel said. “For me, it’s nice to see them be able to shine a light on why GCU is so special, and that’s our students.”

Havoc President Luke Stoffel (seated right) and vice president Wilson Neitzel check Havocs in for the trip to Spokane, Washington.

Local television reporters were on hand for the send-off Friday morning, when students picked up purple pompoms and purple shirts that read, “Let’s Dance GCU,” an appropriate slogan for fans who literally are known for dancing in the stands.

Havocs President Luke Stoffel: "We'll be cheering as loud as we can."

“No sitting down. Absolutely no sitting down,” said Havocs President Luke Stoffel. “We’ll be cheering as loud as we can.”

He was filled with gratitude while checking off names of students holding overnight bags and loading the buses, many picked because “they have been to the games all year, have camped out, for good opponents, small opponents, they’ve been with the Havocs all year," he said, "and we’re so excited to bring them on the trip.

“Our school cares a lot about students. It’s always students first. I’m hoping we have a great time, and I’m hoping we get a win out of it. We’re waiting for that first tournament win, and I’m hoping to bring some home support there.”

Piluski said it’s cool that you can hear GCU chants on TV.

“And we get so many texts from our parents, ‘I saw you on TV!’” Reichert said.

Reichert has only missed one home game all year, and that’s when she was sick. Her group of freshmen friends camped out for every game in an area in front of the basketball arena known as Camp Elliott. They all met there and became friends.

They were asked why they go to such lengths.

An excited Havoc goes in for a goodbye hug after getting a shirt.

“I think it’s because we have such a close campus,” Piluski said. “Everybody knows everybody, and it feels like family.”

“We are not removed from the basketball team,” Reichert added, “Everyone is like everyone else. At the WAC tournament, we wanted to go down on the court after they won, and they wouldn’t let us, so the team came up in the stands with us. It’s all one family.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]

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Related content:

GCU News: GCU president, Saint Mary's coach linked long ago

GCU News: Student leaders create a Havoc-racy of untamed student solidarity

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