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Penn State Alum Gets Up-Close Look At Saint Peter’s March Madness Journey

After ousting No. 3 Purdue in a packed Wells Fargo Center and making history as the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, St. Peter’s University wrote itself into March Madness folklore this year.

The Peacocks’ Cinderella story was the talk of the town — something the small New Jersey school was not used to. Steve Connelly, a Penn State and Onward State alum who graduated in 2019, knows this all too well.

Connelly is a technical director for the Saint Peter’s athletic communications department. He spends most of his time in a production truck, calling out different shots and creating content for the team’s social media channels.

During this year’s NCAA Tournament, Connelly was on the floor shooting photos and videos for the team, as well as creating social media content. Like many, Connelly grew up watching March Madness, so he said being so close to the action was an insane experience.

“It was unreal,” Connelly said. “Penn State men’s and women’s basketball haven’t really been good since I went to Penn State, so I never got that March Madness experience from them.”

Connelly believes the Saint Peter’s-Purdue game was the “world’s greatest matchup.” The Peacocks were zoned in for the entirety of the matchup, and the whole crowd was cheering for the underdogs. After Saint Peter’s clinched the landmark win, Connelly said being on the floor for the celebration was electric.

“It was a whirlwind,” Connelly said. “I never thought I’d see something like that.”

Connelly noted that working in social media for a winning team compared to a losing team is starkly different. When the team is winning, there are a lot more eyes on you. While that adds some pressure, it also creates new opportunities to engage with the audience.

“There’s more of a community,” Connelly said. “You can create more inside jokes and memes, and you don’t have to be as straightforward.”

At first, it was a retweet here or there, but once the team kept winning, everything started blowing up. During the tournament, Saint Peter’s men’s basketball’s Twitter and Instagram accounts gained upwards of 25,000 followers.

Success isn’t a formulaic concept, though. As Connelly notes, you never quite know what’s going to go viral with your followers.

“You could spend hours working on a graphic, and then the tweet that pops off is something that took five minutes,” Connelly laughed.

The Saint Peter’s athletics communications team is comprised of just six people, so from the time the Peacocks secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament until the end of the run, no one had much of a chance to think.

“There was never a chance to process it,” Connelly said.

Before his time with the Peacocks, Connelly wrote and edited for Onward State during his four years as a Penn Stater. He joined the organization as a freshman with only a little bit of writing experience, but it wasn’t long before he found himself covering men’s and women’s basketball, live-tweeting, and designing graphics.

When he first set foot in Happy Valley, Connelly knew nothing about photography, videography, or graphic design. He credits much of his post-grad success to his experiences with Onward State.

These days, Connelly is working toward obtaining his master’s degree in public relations and communications at Saint Peter’s, so he’ll stick with the Peacocks through the end of next year. Right now, he’s focused on the school’s spring sports, but the future of the basketball program lingers in the back of his mind.

“Now that men’s basketball had a great season, there’ll be quite a bit of attention going into the next year,” Connelly said. “That should be fun.”

As for college students trying to follow in his footsteps, Connelly has some words of wisdom.

“Just keep learning from those around you,” he said. “Ask questions because, at the end of the day, that’s how you’re going to get better.”

Connelly laughed before adding one more piece of advice.

“Go to the Gaff,” he said. “It’s the happiest place on earth.”

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About the Author

Grace Cunningham

Grace was Onward State’s social media manager once upon a time. She was also the host of Onward State's podcast. You should google "Podward State Wienermobile" for a good laugh. Nowadays, Grace is a copywriter or something. You can reach her at [email protected], although she doesn't know why you would want to.

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