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“We made it”: The ‘Guys in Ties’ talk Virginia basketball’s rise

Two lifelong Wahoos give their thoughts on the Cavaliers as March Madness continues

<p>Dustin Jones (pictured second from left) sports his traditional gameday outfit with other Hoo Crew members.</p>

Dustin Jones (pictured second from left) sports his traditional gameday outfit with other Hoo Crew members.

March Madness has meant March melancholy for Cavaliers fans in recent years.

Virginia has made it to the NCAA Tournament for the last five consecutive years, but has experienced early exits in all of those years. Despite being a No. 1 seed in three of those five years, the Cavaliers haven’t made it to the Final Four under Coach Tony Bennett. They are now just two games away from reaching that milestone. 

But long-time Wahoos have been able to put these recent struggles in perspective.

Before the more recent success of Virginia basketball, March didn’t even exist. The Cavaliers were a mediocre ACC team that rarely made the postseason. Under Bennett, the agonies of March aside, being a Virginia basketball fan has brought Cavaliers fans across the country immense joy.

Despite some knocks in March, fans are proud of the program Bennett has built. Wahoos love everything about it — the suffocating defense, the five pillars and the class that Bennett and his players embody.

Dustin Jones and Rob Elder, hosts of the “Guys in Ties” Virginia sports podcast, emulate what being a Wahoo is all about.

Jones and Elder are lifelong Wahoos. Jones is a Charlottesville native who has gone to Cavaliers basketball games his whole life and was the President of Hoo Crew. Elder, who has followed Virginia sports his whole life, was the 127th Sports Editor of The Cavalier Daily.

Now, they both live and work in Northern Virginia — Jones as a teacher and Elder as a banker — but being a Virginia sports fan remains a crucial part of who they are.

Jones recounts going to “all the basketball and football games” growing up. He even recalls going to games at University Hall as a kid, before the Cavaliers moved to John Paul Jones Arena in 2006.

“I remember the atmosphere more than anything,” Jones said. “It was a small gym, really hot, kind of like Castle Coliseum at Blacksburg. Really hot, really intimate environment.”

Elder, a “third generation Wahoo,” recalls going to Virginia sports games throughout his childhood, from which he developed a real passion for the Cavaliers.

“It just became a part of what I valued, what mattered to me,” Elder said. “It was part of my identity.”

Naturally, when both guys ended up at the University, they took their fandom to the next level.

“When I got to college it was kind of a no-brainer that I write for The Cavalier Daily,” Elder said.

He also joined Hoo Crew at the end of his first year along with Jones, who became very involved in Virginia’s official student section. Jones quickly showed his passion for Virginia sports and rose through the ranks of Hoo Crew to become President as a fourth-year. He embodied Wahoo pride in the student section, standing out among other animated Cavaliers fans at John Paul Jones Arena.

“You can’t really miss him,” Andrew Benvenuto, current Vice President of Hoo Crew, said of his first interaction with Jones. “I noticed him just [because] of his hair. Big hair and he had the headband on.”

Like many other diehard fans of sports teams, Jones is superstitious. His gameday attire consists of a Sean Singletary jersey, orange pants and a headband — and he never changes it up.

“I’m one of the most superstitious people,” Jones said. “When I was a student, I wore the same outfit to every game. I wore the same pants, same shirt, same headband.”

Even now, after he has left the University, Jones has maintained his superstition.

“Even when he comes back and visits, he still rocks the same kind of outfit,” Benvenuto said.

During his time in Hoo Crew, Jones, who had witnessed a great deal of Virginia basketball mediocrity in his youth, witnessed the growth of a national powerhouse under Bennett.

“That first year against Duke — that was my second year when we had GameDay for the first time, and it was an incredible atmosphere because this had never happened in Charlottesville before,” Jones said. “It was the ‘we made it’ moment.”

As someone who has gone to Virginia basketball games his whole life, Jones knew the gravity of the moment. He remembers the agonizing mediocrity he witnessed at U-Hall.

He attributes the rise of Virginia basketball to one man — Tony Bennett. Over the last six years under Bennett, the Cavaliers have gone 89-19 in ACC play, winning four regular season titles.

“It’s been really fun as a lifelong fan to see Tony [Bennett] bring the program from where it was to where it is now, because where it was was not a good place,” Jones said.

Both Jones and Elder are proud of what Virginia basketball has become and were able to witness many of the Cavaliers’ great moments during their time at the University.

Elder also became involved with Hoo Crew, especially in his fourth year, in which he became good friends with Jones. The two became tight in their identity as lifelong Wahoos.

After they left school, however, both missed that part of their identity.

“What was a huge part of my life for four to five years … was a void in my life after graduating,” Elder said.

That’s when they decided to start a podcast. They called it “Guys in Ties,” reflecting the Virginia football tradition of “guys in ties, girls in pearls.” They made the podcast in their own image, attempting to share their pride in their beloved Wahoos.

“The ultimate goal is that we love U.Va. sports, and we want to have fun and contribute to the dialogue in some way,” Elder said.

After starting the podcast this past summer, the Guys in Ties have already amassed a substantial following and have Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat accounts. Their Twitter account, @GuysInTiesPod, already has over 500 followers. You can check out their podcast here.

They have discussed a variety of topics, including the football and basketball season, and have had a variety of unique segments.

One of those segments was about the UMBC loss, a defeat that Cavaliers fans still grapple with, especially as March Madness approaches.

“The UMBC loss was devastating,” Jones said. “There’s probably not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it, at least in passing.”

Through the podcast episode, they, like other Virginia fans, have been able to put the loss in perspective.

“Regardless of what happened, losing to a 16 is part of our story,” Elder said. “It’s part of our story [and] there’s no avoiding it and the sooner you can accept it and make it a part of your own story as a fan, the better.”

Virginia Coach Tony Bennett shared Elder’s sentiments in reflecting on the loss.

“I think I look at things differently now, actually better, because of that experience,” Bennett said. 

At the end of the day, the loss to UMBC was just one game in what was an incredibly successful season, which was part of an incredible stretch of seasons in which Virginia has become a consistent national contender.

“You take the pain with being able to say we are consistently in the conversation for a No. 1 seed, and that’s something that’s incredible.” Jones said. “That’s something that most programs don’t have.”

This year’s team is the only team that hasn’t lost to a team outside the top 25, and is No. 1 in both BPI and KenPom. Led by the big three — junior guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome and sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter— Virginia is a complete team. In addition to a traditionally stellar defense, this year’s Cavaliers team has a great offense — per, Virginia is second in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Although all the numbers are pointing in the right direction for this year’s Virginia team, which will be favored in Thursday night’s matchup against No. 12 seed Oregon, March Madness has no guarantees — the Cavaliers’ experience last year proved that.

No matter what happens the rest of the way, it will be part of Virginia fans’ story. And the Guys in Ties will be around to break it down.