On the road with the NCAA Tournament

There are some great traditions that every college student enjoys. Weekend parties, depleted bank accounts, procrastination of studies, and three meals involving three different toppings of pizzas are just a few of them. This past weekend, I was able to combine two other great college traditions in the form of a road trip, and "March Madness."

Husky basketball fans have wanted to experience March Madness for a while now and while the men have not been able to deliver yet, the women certainly have and I traveled down to Eugene, Oregon for the first time to cover the Husky women in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Getting to Eugene

For much of the week leading up to the selection of their NCAA Tournament destination, I was apprehensive about where we would land. Outside of Eugene, there was no way I would be able to make a trip to cover the games. And boom. We land in Eugene. That was great and all, but how do I get there now? I have no car, and a plane ticket would instantly take out my entire budget for the trip. I could have taken a Greyhound, but who am I? Joe Kaiser?

That is when you ask your best friend with a car to take time off of work to drive you down to Eugene. In compensation, he gets free gas (which is good these days) and a chance to see Kristen O'Neill play one last game this season. Those were good enough reasons to him and we immediately booked plans to take off for Oregon.

We left at 10:30am on Saturday. We hoped to get to Eugene in time to check into the fabulous, world-class Motel 6 and make it on time to the pep rally to be held at the Wild Duck Brewery at 3:30pm. The drive down Interstate 5 was interesting to say the least.

There was more variation in the weather on Saturday than Britney Spears' love life.

The weather would change every four minutes from bright and sunny skies to pouring, insane thundershowers and even hail. I can honestly say my life flashed before my eyes on several occasions as huge semi-trucks splattered the rain over to our lane and caused a brief hydroplaning incident.

Several hours later, we finally made it to the Washington-Oregon border and crossed the Columbia River. Only a little over 100 miles and we would finally arrive at our destination. But the hundred miles seemed like an eternity…

There is absolutely nothing to see besides open grass between Portland and Eugene. It was lacking something that I call, "signs of human life."

Also, how could the road be so straight? I'm guessing anybody can probably make it to Eugene from Portland with just minimal movement of the steering wheel. Combine that with the awkward stench coming from Brownsville on Exit 216 and the presence of hundreds of sheep along the highway, and you have the makings of a long and boring drive.

In Eugene

So this was Eugene huh? It looked like a nice and cozy college town. I have to admit, the facilities did look nice and the campus looked beautiful. But there would not be any time to tour the campus. I was already late for the pep rally and we had to make it to the Wild Duck as soon as possible. I would say the Wild Duck is sort of like Eugene's version of the RAM with a big music hall for live music. There were about a couple hundred Husky fans there, mostly family members of the team, but there were also some die-hard fans that made the trip.

I got to Mac Court about an hour and a half before tip-off so I had some time to waste so I did a little exploring of "The Pit."

According to Oregon's media guide, Mac Court is "the best college arena in the nation."

I wouldn't go that far.

The place had a nice atmosphere with a sense of history and all, but I would not label it the best. Game-day atmosphere wise, it may be up there, but the physical structure of the place left a lot to be desired.

I could not even find one Ethernet port for my lap top computer to relay my game story. That was when I missed the renovated Bank of America the most.

A group of Oregon fans came decked out in their Oregon gear was sitting right behind me as I was writing.

To them, a Husky is a Husky in any gender.

They were letting their allegiance to Wisconsin Green-Bay be known clearly and some even cheered when Giuliana Mendiola was knocked down toward the end of the game.

I'm not labeling all Oregon fans. There were some Oregon fans that did wish the Huskies the best before the game, but the fans behind me were some of the ones that tested my professionalism to the limit.

Chants of "Lets go Ducks," almost prompted me to turn around and ask them, "Hey, when do the Oregon girls play? Oh that's right… they didn't even make the tournament this year. Oh wait, didn't the Huskies sweep you guys this season too?"

So I displayed a picture of the Autzen Stadium scoreboard that read 42-14 and set my computer off to the side where everyone behind me could see.

That quieted them down.

The game itself was forgettable. Maybe it was because it was the first time that I saw this team lose in person or maybe it was because I may have overlooked Wisconsin-Green Bay, but I was pretty much shocked over the loss.

I was upset.

I'm not taking anything away from the Phoenix. They played an excellent game and deserved to win on Saturday night.

But still, I was saddened.

This was a team that had captured my imagination. I was once the average Huskies sports fan where I strongly supported football, cared just enough about men's basketball, and saw everything else as irrelevant.

What this team has gone through this season has been talked about and discussed by many other publications so I will not go into it here. This group of 16 young women will always share a special bond with each other wherever their life may lead them.

A community embraced them, and they made us believers in them.

The final buzzer rang, and the tears began to fall as the hoards of Husky supporters gave the team a standing ovation. Saying that it was a job well done is a huge understatement. I even rose out of my seat on the media row to show my gratitude. It was a huge media no-no, but I was not thinking at the time.

I could have cared less.

This road trip has been cut short by two days. Am I disappointed? Yes. But it was not because I would head home sooner than expected.

There will be many road trips down the line, but there was something special about this team.

It is going to be a whole new look for this team next season. Five players are graduating, and four new freshmen players have signed on to play.

The Pac-10 Player of the Year Mendiola will be returning, which makes everything promising as well as a group of ladies who will be a year more experienced and wiser.

An advice to all you Husky fans who spend the football offseason just counting down for the next season: Check out the Huskies women basketball team next season and you too will begin to believe.

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