Autostraddle March Madness 2024: ‘The Kids Are Alright’ Championship

Header: The 6th Annual Autostraddle March Madness 2024

Follow our March Madness content all tournament long and don’t forget to vote for your favs!

Back in early November, the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish travelled overseas to Paris, France to kick off the 2023-2024 women’s college basketball season. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the game was a harbinger of so much of what was to come.

On that day, we’d learn that despite losing their entire starting line-up to the WNBA, South Carolina would still be dominant. They’d reloaded at every position, anchored by the play of their 6’7 center Kamilla Cardoso. The culture that Dawn Staley’s built in South Carolina was already taking root in this new crop of players: no one would play more than 28 minutes in Paris and they’d be unselfish with the ball, assisting on 29 of 43 shots. They showed a notable improvement from behind the arc. Both teams would put the college basketball world on notice: learning curves be damned, the freshmen were coming to show up and show out. Notre Dame’s Hannah Hildago was a walking bucket, scoring 31 points in her first collegiate game, while South Carolina’s Milaysia Fulwiley was a human highlight reel, dazzling the international audience on both ends of the court. In hindsight, that game was everything we needed to know about this college basketball season and its eventual champions, the South Carolina Gamecocks.

But what that game obscured is the emotional weight that’d come from the 2023 semifinal loss, a weight that South Carolina’s veterans and their head coach were still carrying. They all felt like they’d failed that senior class — the Freshies, as they were known — by not finishing that season with a perfect record and hoisting a national championship. They wanted to send that class into the WNBA as champions and they’d fallen short… and they carried that weight until the buzzer sounded. At that point, Coach Staley just let all the weight she’d been carrying, spill out of her.

It’s worth noting that Staley’s third national championship came just one day after she and Iowa Head Coach Lisa Bluder faced a gotcha question from a rightwing “sports” website about the inclusion of transgender women in sports. To her credit, Staley recognized the question for what it was, called it out, and then offered unequivocal support for inclusion. It was an effort to distract and it failed, miserably. We love an inclusive champion over here.

Now that the NCAA has crowned their champion, let’s get to work on crowing our own.

We’re down to just two! Willow Rosenberg of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Santana Lopez of GLEE.

Autostraddle March Madness Finals: Willow Rosenberg vs. Santana Lopez

Brainiacs: #3. Willow Rosenberg, Buffy the Vampire Slayer vs. Thesbians: #1. Santana Lopez, Glee

What’s interesting about these two finalists is that they easily could’ve been slotted into other regions. Yes, Willow was a brainiac — “the pinnacle of academic achievement at Sunnydale High” — but she was also a rebel… using her skills behind a computer and in witchcraft to help vanquish whatever demon had descended on Sunnydale. Of course, Santana could’ve been a jock: after all, she’s first introduced to us as a William McKinley High cheerleader and she only joins to the Glee Club to spy on them for Sue Sylvester. Also, honestly, Santana could’ve been a rebel, too… she was your classic high school mean girl when we met her. Ultimately, though, I think Willow and Santana landed in the regions they were supposed to be in… and set us on this inevitable collision course.

Willow Rosenberg hasn’t had an easy path to the championship round. She had some formidable foes in the Brainiacs region — Elena Alvarez of One Day at a Time and Leighton Murray of The Sex Lives Of College Girls, most notably — that could’ve easily stopped her run. But Willow has survived every test y’all have thrown at her. In her Final Four match-up with Vanessa “Van” Palmer, Willow even managed to upset expectations: 60% of those who anticipated the match-up in our Challonge bracket competition thought the win would go to the Yellowjackets’ goalie. But can the Scooby Gang’s brainiac withstand her greatest challenge of the competition?

Santana’s run to the championship round has been decisive. No one’s even come close to beating her; she’s been dominant. Her success in this year’s tournament mirrors past Autostraddle March Madness runs from Juliana and Maya and Carina… all of which ended with championships.

But, of course, what’s different — and, by extension, more impressive — about Santana’s run is that GLEE‘s been off the air for nearly a decade now. There’s no active fandom for GLEE compared to what those aforementioned winners had; this is just a natural reflection of people’s love and nostalgia for the character.

Can Santana be stopped? As crazy as this sounds, I think, maybe so… and I think Willow is, perhaps, the only character in the field who could do it. In the last round, Willow and Santana’s finished with nearly identical vote totals. This truly is anyone’s game.


So, for the last time in the “Kids are Alright” edition of Autostraddle March Madness, it’s time for you to vote! As usual, you have 48 hours to cast your ballot in this championship round. Remember, you can vote four times over the voting period (or to be more exact once, every 12 hours) so take advantage of every opportunity to vote for your favorite. I’ll be back, with all the votes tabulated, ready to crown your queen.

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Natalie

A black biracial, bisexual girl raised in the South, working hard to restore North Carolina's good name. Lover of sports, politics, good TV and Sonia Sotomayor. You can follow her latest rants on Twitter.

Natalie has written 400 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. I know this is fandom and also basketball, but there hasn’t been a great place to say how awesome it would be if AS would have some coverage of the PWHL which is in its first season and crushing it and also the gayest thing ever.

    This is also the most difficult vote so far, no idea who to put

  2. Willow broke barriers and IMO carried the later seasons of Buffy but as someone who 1. lives for a men’s lesbian and 2.~realized~ things because of Santana’s coming out arc, she’s always going to have my heart.

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