I never thought I’d be leaving the University knowing what it feels like to be a long-suffering fan.

Sure, that might seem overly dramatic. After all, it’s only been two years since the football team made a bowl game, and the basketball team earned its first NCAA Tournament bid in 11 years just last season. But when you’re only at one of the premier sports schools in the nation for four years, that time is too short to tolerate multiple mediocre seasons in every major sport.

So when Ohio State’s Evan Turner made that ridiculous, 37-foot buzzer-beater on Friday afternoon to knock the Wolverines out of the Big Ten Tournament and end their season, another loss wasn’t even heartbreaking anymore.

All I could think was: Of course he did that. Story of my senior year.

It’s no secret that many students choose to come here because of the athletic tradition. And it’s easy to feel like this year, we’ve been robbed of the chance to experience that winning feeling that’s supposed to define students’ time at the University.

But for some overly optimistic reason, I still kept buying tickets to basketball and hockey games this winter. That’s because I knew that regardless of the games’ outcomes, my experience as a University student would have been much less fulfilling if I hadn’t been there in the stands.

And that’s why it was only natural that one day after Turner’s demoralizing shot, a friend and I decided to drive to East Lansing and watch yet another Michigan team that has failed to meet expectations all year. The trip felt like a good idea as soon as Michigan scored two goals partway through the first period. But then the Wolverines allowed three quick Spartan goals to fall behind at the first intermission.

All I could think was: Of course they did that. Story of my senior year.

But this time, Michigan decided to fight back — and pulled out a 5-3 win. As the large Michigan contingent stayed in the Munn Ice Arena stands long past the end of the game, chanting, “It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine,” I knew that’s why I have kept watching the disappointments — for the feeling of those few successes.

My friend that went with me to Saturday’s game has never held season tickets at Yost and doesn’t consider herself a diehard hockey fan. But when we decided to go to Michigan State on Saturday, she easily shelled out the $25 for a ticket and drove 120 miles round trip to go see them.

When I asked her why she wanted to go, she was taken aback, like it was a stupid question. And her reason was simple.

“I’m a senior,” she said. “I had a chance to see one of our teams find success, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

That’s the exact same reason another one of my friends gave after we convinced her to go to the outdoor Camp Randall Hockey Classic game back in February. The trip to Madison was more expensive and a lot farther away than East Lansing, and she decided to go even though she can only name two players on the current hockey roster.

The weather was frigid, we couldn’t see what was happening on the ice even though we were in the third row of seats, and we wandered around Madison for a half hour after the game trying to figure out where we had parked. By the time we finally found our car and escaped the elements, she was numb, near tears and having absolutely no fun.

But she knew that part of the fundamental idea of being a Michigan student means going to sporting events and learning about our teams — even if those teams end up disappointing us in the end.

“Whether or not I really enjoy hockey, it didn’t matter,” she says now, a month and a half later. “That’s not what I was going for. I enjoy going to Michigan sporting events, regardless of how they’re actually doing.”

That statement was pretty powerful, especially during this painful 2009-10 season in Michigan sports. But it proved to me what many more students who only attend home football games need to discover before they graduate — we only have four years to experience the most defining part of a Michigan education.

Even when our teams are lousy, there’s nothing more uniquely maize and blue than driving to another school, wearing Michigan colors proudly and singing “The Victors” as the other team’s fans file out of the building. And that’s why even though the hockey team is a massive underdog heading into Friday’s game at Joe Louis Arena, I’ll be there — just in case. Because that’s what University students do.

Courtney Ratkowiak was the Daily’s managing editor in 2009. She can be reached at cratkowi@umich.edu.

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