Jessica Garcia ’10 and Breanne Smilie ’07

 

When the men’s basketball team steps onto the court to face the Vanderbilt Commodores in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, March 16, fans Jessica Garcia ’10 and Breanne Smilie ’07 will be there to cheer them on.

 

The engaged couple—who met after graduation when they joined the same intramural basketball league—have followed the Wildcats’ historic season closely. “Some games have been gut-wrenching, but they’ve all been fun to watch,” says Garcia.

 

Garcia and Smilie—who both grew up and still live in the Chicago area—are both lifelong sports fans. “Growing up in Chicago, you live and breathe Chicago sports,” says Garcia. “It was easy to jump in and start being a Northwestern fan.”

 

Choosing a Northwestern Direction

 

Smilie, who played for Northwestern’s women’s basketball team, became a Wildcats fan in elementary school during her first basketball camp at the University. When it became time to decide on a college, Northwestern was a top choice.

 

“I wanted to play basketball at a high level but always had academics at the forefront of my mind,” says Smilie. “Northwestern offered me the opportunity to focus on both while also allowing me to stay close to home.”

 

As a student-athlete, Smilie says she gained a deep admiration for Northwestern Athletics—and its focus on high academic standards. She earned a degree in communications and now works in healthcare sales at the College of American Pathologists. She says her coursework—including classes in theories of argumentation and bargaining and negotiation—prepared her well for a career in sales.

 

Unlike Smilie, Garcia originally envisioned heading to the East Coast for college but changed her mind after being accepted at Northwestern. “I decided that staying in the Midwest and attending one of the best schools in the country was a top priority,” she says.

 

She earned a degree in learning and organizational change from the School of Education and Social Policy and now works as a consultant at Slalom, a business and technology consulting firm.

 

Lifelong Wildcat Fans

 

Garcia and Smilie return to Evanston regularly to attend basketball and football games—and have also traveled around the country to support the Wildcats. In 2015, Smilie flew to Waco, Texas, to watch the women’s basketball team compete in its first NCAA tournament since 1997. Watching the game as an alumna, says Smilie was “a very special experience.” This winter, the couple traveled to New York to watch the Wildcats play in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

 

‘A Huge Milestone’ for Men’s Basketball

 

This season, Garcia and Smilie have had their eyes on the men’s basketball team—and its record-breaking 21 wins. They credit Coach Chris Collins with bringing in the “right group of guys” to take the Wildcats to their first-ever NCAA Tournament. “We always thought that when Collins’ recruiting classes became seniors they would finally have a chance at the NCAA Tournament,” says Garcia, “but we never imagined it would happen a year earlier.”

 

The couple says that participating in the tournament is a “huge milestone’ for the men’s basketball program—because it puts the program on the map as one of the elites in the Big Ten. “We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Collins and his team,” says Garcia.

 

Visit Wildcats NCAA Tournament Central for more information about the upcoming Tournament, including details about the official N Zone Rally in Salt Lake City, watch parties around the country, social media, and more.