Players ponder hometown's fav foods, sites

The Queen City awaits. Cincinnati, Ohio, nestled in the curves on the north side of the Ohio River, is a Midwestern tourist destination home to more than 2 million people. The families and friends of Vanderbilt players Ashlee Bridge and Gabby Smith live there, along with folks known to Assistant Coach Vicky Picott and Head Coach Melanie Balcomb from their years in the city.

At noon EDT on Sunday, they'll be packing Cintas Center on Xavier's campus to watch their Vanderbilt loved ones take on DePaul's Blue Demons in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. Who better to talk about what's best to taste and experience in Cincy than the town's transplanted natives?

One of the main attractions and Ashlee's first pick is Kings Island, which will open 10 days after the basketball rounds end. Boomerang Bay is a gigantic water playground inside the theme park which the senior also mentioned as one of her favs. As an alternative, Gabby suggests Great Wolf Lodge, an indoor water park open year round that she has enjoyed with family.

Cincinnati's tourism seems to thrive on water-based business. Besides Newport Aquarium ("the sea turtles are amazing," Ashlee says), there is also the Montgomery Inn Boathouse, advertised as "home of the world's greatest ribs." The barbecue sauce gets a huge thumbs up from Ashlee. The restaurant is located on the waterfront in Cincy's picturesque downtown, which is home to Fountain Square, a large public square with an elaborate water feature.

Food was a focus for the players (perhaps because the interview followed practice) as the two settled on a pair of regional favorites. Penn Station ("The Official Cheesesteak of the Cincinnati Reds!") was mentioned with a sigh from Ashlee as she pondered the absence of the high fat, high protein meal in Nashville. "We don't have those here. The Philly Cheesesteak is really, really good." Gabby explains, "It's like a Subway or Quizno's but much better." And, for all those fortunate fans making the trip, Gabby added, "There's one right by Xavier!"

Next up, and even more famous, is Skyline Chili. Grab a Coney chili dog or a Way (that's 3-Way, 4-Way or 5-Way chili talk for ordering variety as you like it). There are three locations in downtown Cincinnati and even more in northern Kentucky for those who can't wait to bite a dog in Ohio. "Yeah, you see them everywhere," Gabby says.

And for dessert, savor a scoop or two of Graeter's Ice Cream – Ashlee labels it "the best ice cream in the country."

More cultural mentions are the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the number one attraction for most visitors, and, bonus, it's just an 8-minute drive from Xavier. Gabby also suggests the Cincinnati Museum Center, which houses three in one – a history museum, children's museum and the Museum of Natural History and Science.

But the absolute main reason why Cincinnati is awesome, according to an enthusiastic and very excited freshman? "'Cuz we're from there. That's the greatest thing about Cincinnati—Ashlee Bridge from Princton and Gabby Smith from Mount Notre Dame. What could be better?"

Information for purchasing tickets to Sunday's two First Round games and the Second Round (7 p.m. EDT on March 23) match-up are available on Xavier's Internet site:

"You'll see," Gabby promises. "There's going to be a big turnout." Top Stories