This past week I had to opportunity to attend the NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament while working on the Lady Griz travel party. Doing this allowed me to take in two new experiences. First off, I had never attended a women’s basketball NCAA tournament before this weekend. Secondly, I had never traveled with the Lady Griz. I can now check both those things off my bucket list.
One of my duties was to watch over the pep band and cheer squad. In fact, for this trip I was designated as the “coach” of the cheer squad…something that I can add to my resume. Anyway, all of us on the band and cheer squad departed campus via bus for Spokane on Thursday afternoon about an hour before the Lady Griz left. This gave us time to check-in to the hotel, the Red Lion at the Park, and then get set up to truly welcome the Lady Griz when its bus arrived. Positioning the cheer squad right outside the doors of the hotel and setting up the band right inside the hotel conference area lobby, the Lady Griz received a loud and spirited welcome that any team that made the NCAA tournament should receive.
After the team arrived and got settled in, many of us went up to the Skyline Ballroom of the hotel and watched the Griz basketball team square off against Syracuse. Unfortunately, the Griz basketball team did not have a very good night. Fortunately, the Griz basketball team had a spectacular season so even with the loss we all felt great for what the team had accomplished. As we walked out of the viewing room and went down the elevator, the Lady Griz knew that the eyes of Montana were now focused solely on them.
The next day we had band and cheer rehearsal for the game in the back parking lot of the Red Lion. Under the early spring Spokane sun, it was very pleasant getting ready for the timeouts that the band and cheer squad would get to perform for during Saturday. It was amusing watching hotel guests open up the back doors and snap pictures at the very collegiate scene taking place in the parking lot. For the hotel guests who did not hurry down to ground level to see the practice, many had to have watched from their room windows as the sweet sound of “Up With Montana” was audible enough even on the eleventh floor.
After the rehearsal and a nice walk through downtown Spokane and Riverfront Park capped off by a tasty lunch at the Olive Garden, I drove to the McCarthey Center to cover Media Day. One thing about NCAA tournaments: the media rooms are always full and busy with activity. Moderated by an NCAA official, the Lady Griz press conference featured Robin Selvig, Katie Baker, and Kenzie De Boer. I enjoyed listening to them field questions from the media. As I tweeted out after the press conference, I admire how articulate and professional our Lady Griz athletes are when dealing with the media. It goes without saying that Robin Selvig is a true pro at the same thing.
When the press conference concluded I spent some time chatting with my friend Shaun from ABC/FOX and then I went out on the arena floor for the Lady Griz practice. Before the session started the players posed for a group shot that was well-documented by all the media types there, including myself. While they ran through a 90 minute practice I got some great pictures from many different angles of the facility and then just relaxed and watched from press row as Robin conducted the remainder of the practice.
That Friday night I had the bus take the band and cheer squad out to the Spokane Valley Mall. While I had seen the place a thousand times, I got to enjoy a nice Mexican dinner at Azteca with Shaun and Misti, one of our main equipment room workers. After a couple hours and too much Mexican food, we returned to the hotel.
Saturday morning of game day came and I made sure to get our social channels primed and ready for the big match up with Georgia. The Lady Griz departed the hotel at 1:30 p.m. and once again we had the band and cheer squad sending them off the right way. This time both cheer and the band were staged outside, making it a very spirited walk for the Lady Griz from the exit of the hotel to the bus. Coach Selvig was the last one on the bus and he made sure to give us a salute, prompting cheers from everyone.
At 2 p.m., cheer and band made the bus ride to the McCarthey Center. After the Gonzaga crew checked all I.D.s, we went to the holding area where we joined Georgia’s spirit squad and band. In a nostalgic moment for me, the holding area was in the old Kennel of Martin Center where Gonzaga used to play its home games. For two years when I was in grade school, I served as a ball boy for Gonzaga in that very gym. After everyone got settled I went over to the “new Kennel” of McCarthey Center and watched the remainder of the first game, Gonzaga vs. Iowa State. Much to the disappointment of the home crowd, Iowa State defeated the Bulldogs, starting off a terrible day for the Gonzaga basketball programs. The game ended and teams, spirit squads, and bands were switched out and just like that we were thirty minutes away from Montana vs. Georgia.
I got a front row seat right in front of our cheer squad. Playing in front of a good crowd in a magnificent facility, I got that familiar NCAA tournament adrenaline rush circulating through my veins. The Lady Griz started off slow but then went back-and-forth with Georgia for the final fifteen minutes of the first half to only be down seven points at halftime. Then, in a display that had the whole gym believing and rallying around Montana, the Lady Griz started the second half hot and cut the Georgia lead to 38-36 early on. However, that was as close as they would get. A couple more rallies fell short and the energy exerted to make those comebacks proved costly as Montana ran out of gas towards the end. When the buzzer sounded, Georgia had defeated the Lady Griz, 70-50.
In no way was the final score indicative of how close the game actually was. The Lady Griz played great and honored the Montana tradition. Simply, Montana competed with Georgia. Playing as a #13 seed and playing against a power conference you can’t ask for much more.
The travel party stayed the night in Spokane. Man, was that one sad city. After the Lady Griz game, many of us watched as the Gonzaga men’s basketball team went down to Wichita State. There were some pretty shocked and upset locals that night. Sunday morning we drove back to Missoula. Shaun and Misti kept saying how long the trip seemed, but not in a bad way. It was just one of those things were you thought to yourself, “Wow, it seems like I have been here for longer than sixty hours.” We pulled up to the campus on a sunny afternoon and went on with our days.
I took away a great experience from Spokane. I enjoyed getting to hang out and socialize with staff members who I normally don’t have the opportunity to talk to. I enjoyed watching over the cheer squad and getting to know the band better. I also enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing that I am very lucky to work for the Montana Grizzlies and that the way we run things both at our own venue and when traveling is top notch. Mostly though, I enjoyed watching the Lady Griz basketball team cap off a remarkable 2012-13 season. To all the coaches and players on this year’s team…thank you. Don’t Blink.