Mackenzie DeGraff is no stranger to championship glory.
She was one of Brewer’s best track and field athletes, leading the Witches to back-to-back Eastern Maine Indoor Track League titles while earning Top Performer honors in that meet as a junior.
DeGraff also participated in football cheerleading all four years at Brewer and two years of winter cheering before joining indoor track as a junior. She decided to continue in cheerleading and track once arriving at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., last fall.
Now, she’s going to be on one the grandest of stages of collegiate athletics, as the Holden native will be on the sidelines cheering at the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Wofford punched its ticket to the Big Dance on Monday by defeating Appalachian State in Charlotte, N.C., to capture the Southern Conference title and its first berth in the NCAA tourney.
Although Wofford had the tournament’s top seed, the SoCon final was at Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena, home of the NBA’s Bobcats, because Davidson University was the tourney host.
Still, the atmosphere of the arena on Monday was like a Wofford home game.
“It was crazy, our section probably had three-quarters of the fans,” DeGraff said. “We had a really good student section. Seven charter buses came up to Charlotte. Everyone was screaming the whole time.”
Wofford’s student section had roughly 400-500 fans.
DeGraff is a member of Wofford’s “Black” cheerleading squad, which attends all the home and away football games, home men’s basketball games and the team’s tournament contests. She and her teammates will receive championship charm bracelets while the players will get rings.
DeGraff got her first taste of big-time college athletics early this season when Wofford defeated South Carolina of the Southeastern Conference at home while also beating another SEC foe in Georgia.
She was apprehensive before tipoff on Monday.
“I was so nervous for the boys, they practiced so hard all year long,” DeGraff said. “The first half they just went in and played amazingly and I just didn’t want it taken away from them.”
Wofford jumped out to a 16-point lead in the first half, only to see Appalachian State get as close as four in the second, but the Terriers held on and DeGraff and everyone else in Spartanburg could put on their “dancing” shoes.
“Everyone’s real excited, you can just tell the basketball players [are] excited [and] the whole school is really involved,” she said. “We’re excited to see where we’re going to go.”
Even though DeGraff’s Facebook page had some messages from friends in Brewer congratulating her school on the win, it wasn’t exactly flooded.
“I don’t think any of them watched [the game],” she admitted. “My mom called me and said, ‘I saw you on [ESPN].’”
Even though the Terriers entered Monday’s play on a 12-game win streak and boasted a 25-8 record (14-3 SoCon), a lot of people were pegging the team as an underdog, but the victory extinguished those thoughts.
“Our team had been playing really well all year but seemed like we were underdogs, because we are a little school,” DeGraff said.
Since cheerleading is only a club sport at 1,400-student Wofford, DeGraff can still participate in track, where she specializes in the long and triple jumps and hurdles.
Although mononucleosis and strep throat hampered her indoor season, she still was able to cheer at the basketball games but couldn’t perform any stunts during timeouts or at halftime.
“I didn’t get to compete very much during indoor. I was real sick through indoor,” DeGraff said.
Once Wofford is eliminated from the NCAA tournament, DeGraff will focus on track and field full time.
“I started practicing a couple weeks ago, I think, and I’m getting ready to hurdle and jump,” said DeGraff, a biology major who may try the decathlon at during her college career.
DeGraff isn’t the only one with Eastern Maine ties at Wofford — Brewer athletic administrator Dennis Kiah’s son, Andy, is the school’s director of athletic facilities.