An Amazing Day in Grizzly Athletics

Last week, in my mind I envisioned writing a recap of the crazy four days of dual Big Sky Conference tournament madness that I got to have a front row seat for. But, things happen and you change your mind.

I mean heck, I very well could have stayed true to my initial plan. I could have wrote about the 14 teams, the 12 games, the long days, the team personnel, the conference personnel, the fans, the crazy plays, the storylines, the promotions, the long nights, the challenge to keep the music fresh, the battle to stay awake, the task to block my hunger out, the duty to answer every question I received accurately, the obligation to stay neutral, and so on and so on.

But again, things happen and you change your mind.

Instead of composing a long, drawn out blog post covering my four days working the Big Sky Conference tournaments, I knew driving out of the arena parking lot late Saturday evening that I needed to do something different. While all four days were cool, nothing came close to how special and sweet that last day was. Championship Saturday at the Big Sky Conference tournament in 2013 will go down as one of the best, and most magical, days in Griz history. It deserves recognition all by itself.

My brother traveled to Missoula for Championship Saturday.

My brother traveled to Missoula for Championship Saturday.


Going into Saturday we already had the best case scenario. Both the Lady Griz and Griz basketball teams took care of business in the semis and had dates in the conference championship games with bids to the NCAA tournament on the line. However, the best case scenario in the morning didn’t count for much except that we would have great ticket sales. In all reality, both Montana teams could have dropped the championship games to very good opposing squads. Both the Northern Colorado women and the Weber State men were #2 seeds and had both beaten their respective Montana opponents once already. So while a good feeling circulated at the start of the day, we all knew that it could be replaced with disappointment come the end of it. The only thing to do was play the games out one at a time.

The Lady Griz took the court 100% focused on Saturday afternoon. Giving me a new playlist to cycle through during warm ups, the team was on a mission. The women didn’t really need to get fired up much more but during the National Anthem they did….as a surprise to our fans, we lit off fireworks during and after the Star Spangled banner. I think I am just getting more sensitive in my older age because when the fireworks went off, my eyes got watery. Here we were at The University of Montana, pulling out all the stops to make this experience for all involved as memorable as possible. The fireworks were beautiful, impactful, and for many, unexpected. It raised the adrenaline of not just the players, but everyone in the building.

The fireworks were spectacular.

The fireworks were spectacular.

Montana came out and just kicked butt. The same focus and intensity in warm ups carried over to the game. I had never seen so much emotion out of the team before. While scoring efficiently and shutting down Northern Colorado’s best player, D’shara Strange, the Lady Griz never trailed in the game and won 70-56. In yet another example of striving to make the tournament as special as possible, confetti fell from up above on to the Dahlberg Arena floor. The Lady Griz went from losing in the opening round of the tourney last year to champions of it this year. The players celebrated, Robin Selvig smiled, and the Lady Griz punched a ticket to the NCAA tournament.



I think after the Lady Griz victory, some weight was lifted off the shoulders of a lot of us. We knew we would not get shut out on our home floor. We knew at least one team was going dancing.

During the short period after the Lady Griz game and the start of the men’s championship game, the reality of possibly having both teams going to the NCAA tournament seemed real for the first time. The whole last half of the season I thought about how cool it would be for it to happen, but I knew so many things had to fall in place for it to be a reality. With the women advancing to the Big Dance, only one win was needed to send both basketball programs to the most prestigious collegiate competition there is.

Of course, that “one win” was going to be maybe the toughest of the season.

We have an amazing group of seniors on the Lady Griz.

We have an amazing group of seniors on the Lady Griz.


One word to describe the atmosphere of Dahlberg Arena on Saturday night: Electric. Fans packed the place. Students crammed into the bottom section behind the north basket and overflowed the upper section. Two bands (ours and Weber State’s) went back and forth filling the place with sound. Natalie Jones belted out the National Anthem while fireworks once again blasted through the air. Everybody’s hands went UP when I played “All I Do Is Win.” Come tip off, you couldn’t hear yourself think. Finally, the ref threw the ball in the air and the game started.

The Griz got off to a great start, building a 9 point lead at one time in the first half. However, Weber State clawed back and once halftime hit, the score was tied at 34. After the Super Skippers and UM Dance Team performed during the break, Montana and Weber State came out to play the 24th and final half that had been played on the Dahlberg Arena floor over the last four days.

The first five minutes of the first half went back and forth before Weber State went on a run to lead by five with 12 minutes left. However, the Griz never panicked and with five minutes left, the game was once again changing leads.

Wayne Tinkle was named Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year today. It is no surprise. Coach guided the team through those final minutes and despite some big shots by Weber they could not top Montana. At about the 20 second mark when it became apparent that the Griz would hold on, I left my place at the music table to get ready to go out on the court to cover the celebration. After Weber’s last second half court desperation three-pointer fell short, I hugged our athletic director who was standing right next to me and then ran out on the floor, taking pictures and video of the mosh pit at center court created by the UM student body who had rushed the hardwood. Just like the women’s post-game celebration, confetti fell, awards were given out, nets were cut down, and a ticket to the NCAA tournament was punched.

Members of the Griz basketball team celebrating after the game.

Members of the Griz basketball team celebrating after the game.


Two championships and two tickets to the Big Dance on one floor during one day. For a department and a community that has sufferered their fair share of blows over the past 12 months, we needed this. On Saturday, March 16, Grizzly Athletics once again proved that it is the cream of the crop in the Big Sky Conference, perhaps in one of the most dominating fashions ever. The day that Montana punched two tickets to the NCAA tournament on its home court will be remembered and talked about for a long time. The ten games I worked to get to the point of the two championship games? Absolutely worth it…I would have worked 200 games to be a part of what transpired on Saturday. Don’t Blink.



Basketball Heaven

Recently I wrote about how much I adore March. While going over the many reasons why the month is so spectacular, I specifically mentioned Championship Week for college basketball. This great week where conference tournaments are played to decide which teams will receive automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament is one of my favorite times of the year. After expressing my fondness for Championship Week in my post, I mentioned something that could make it even better.

This basketball season, Griz Nation has been absolutely spoiled by the two Montana basketball programs. Both the Griz and Lady Griz played stellar throughout the whole regular season. Dominating conference play and competing with heart and class, both teams found themselves entering the last weekend of the Big Sky Conference regular season in first place and in control of their own destinies. Like they had done all year long, both teams delivered and captured Big Sky Conference titles in the past few days. With the Montana sweep of both Big Sky Conference basketball races, it gives us at Grizzly Athletics the pleasure to hold both conference tournaments in Dahlberg Arena.

Last night  our mens team won the Big Sky Conference regular season title.

Last night our mens team won the Big Sky Conference regular season title.

Of course, that “something that could make it even better” about Championship Week was getting the opportunity to directly contribute to it and host a tournament. Well, we are not just hosting “a” tournament, we are hosting TWO tournaments! The amount of excitement and enthusiasm around the athletic department right now is insane. To see our teams play so well throughout the whole season and see it rewarded with a couple of hosting bids makes us all very proud. To know that we get to host two first class competitions that will result in two teams receiving tickets to the greatest sport spectacle on the planet is really cool.

But the excitement and enthusiasm are not the only things that are insane around the department right now… the work load is too. Last year we hosted the men’s tournament when the field just included four teams. That alone was a lot of work. Now, in the newly expanded tournament format, both the men’s and women’s fields will have seven participating teams. Can you see how preparing for 14 teams each with their own fan bases, athletic staffs, media, spirit squads, and bands could prove a little stressful?

Christie and I last year after our mens team won the Big Sky Conference championship.

Christie and I last year after our mens team won the Big Sky Conference tournament championship.

There are practice times to set, hotel reservations to book, staffing issues to organize, ticketing plans to execute, transportation logistics to figure out, hospitality and media areas to set up, communication channels with participating schools to secure, accommodations for conference officials to organize, parking plans to put in place, locker room designations to plan out, marketing materials to create, and so much more.

Obviously, the work load falls on all of us working inside the Adams Center from ticketing to concessions to marketing to internal operations to sports information to the large number of people who hold game day jobs (P.A. announcer, ushers, spotters, child care providers, caterers, Griz Vision workers, etc. etc.). However, the burden doesn’t fall any heavier than on the shoulders of the two people who are really in charge of making sure this thing goes off without a hitch, Chuck Maes and Jean Gee. Chuck and Jean are our Associate Athletic Directors and are the tournament managers for the men’s and women’s competitions, respectively. Both Chuck and Jean must deal with the infinite number of details that play a part in these types of tournaments and effectively distribute responsibilities and roles to us staff members. Although these two have long in advance planned for these two tournaments, you can only do so much work ahead of time. When Saturday night ended and the tournament field was finally officially set, a whole new level of craziness set in.

Over four days, 12 games will be played in Dahlberg Arena. On Wednesday, we will host three women’s games in the opening round. Thursday we will host three men’s games. On Friday we will host four games as we will host the semis for both tourneys. On Saturday we will host the championship games. Guess what?! I get to work all 12 games! In fact, I will see every minute of action of both tournaments. I will have my usual courtside seat serving as the arena DJ and managing Griz Vision. I honestly can’t wait. Early on in the season I knew a dual hosting situation was very possible and I dreamed of how cool it would be…and now it is reality.

Making this whole tournament week even more special is that my dad and brother are coming over from Washington to watch the games on Friday and Saturday. My brother is on spring break and will make the long trip from Ellensburg and my dad will take a rare day off of work and make the trip from Spokane. To have my dad and brother in the stands for this very special time in Grizzly Athletics means a lot to me. I can’t wait for them to get swept up in the craziness and madness.

But enough about how special and fun this time is for our staff and for me personally, let’s talk about who really matters…the participating teams. I had such a satisfying feeling when it became official that we would host both tournaments. You see, when you get to the championship level of something, teams deserve to have the best possible. They deserve to compete in a fun and inviting environment. We offer that here in Missoula. We have a great arena, an involved and fun game day production, and a community that is extremely fired up about basketball right now. The teams coming here will get something special that they necessarily wouldn’t get if the tournament was hosted at a different place. I can’t thank our two basketball teams enough for playing like champions and giving us the opportunity to show off what we have going here in Missoula and treat the Big Sky Conference to a couple of great tournaments. Enjoy. Don’t Blink.