March Madness.The time of the year where we root for the underdog, but in our heads decidedly pick the big boys because we all want to win our bracket pools.
Conference tournaments have begun with some teams already punching their tickets into the Big Dance. This week, however, is the week that matters. All of the big conferences begin play along with the Mountain West. I will be at the Mountain West tournament on Wednesday live blogging for the Las Vegas Sun, so I hope all of you follow me on throughout Wednesday.
But until this year, my madness always began a week early as the NCAA Division II tournament always started the same week as the big conference tournaments. While teams like Kentucky, Kansas and Duke were solidifying resumes, I was usually on a plane heading to some random location in Washington state whether it was Bellingham (2010 and 2012) or Ellensburg (2011) to cover Dixie State (Utah) in the NCAA Tournament. Those trips were always fun because they featured some sort of adventure in a true college town. Whether it was sushi in Bellingham to the random restaurants in Ellensburg, there was always something to do even if the trip was cut shot.
This year, however, I won’t be traveling with Dixie State since I now work in Las Vegas, and gave up the Dixie State beat.
I was perfectly fine with not being able to see any Division II postseason play, considering that it was a difficult to come by and rare sight on television. It made me sad to a degree, but I understood why.
Then my old paper came to me with a proposition. If I wanted to, I could cover the Dixie State men’s basketball team at its conference tournament.
In Azusa, Calif.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I wanted to cover that tournament, since I was going to cover it anyway had I remained in St. George, Utah. But my work schedule limited me to hoping that they made it to the championship game before packing up my stuff and heading to Southern California for a one-day trip that I knew was going to feature energy drinks, Alien Beef Jerky and some fine Chick-Fil-A.
Well, Dixie State made it, and provided me with a highly entertaining game against Chaminade. You know that team that host the Maui Invitational every year and is slowly implementing an offense that UNLV fans hope to see in the coming future. Knowing that I was going to write a trio of stories for a fine haul of extra money, I drove down to California making the predetermined stops I listed earlier en route to Azusa Pacific University. Once I got there, I wasn’t even tired and not even the shock of UNLV losing to Fresno State again could ruin the fact that I was going to watch some postseason basketball.
Being there was a nice reunion of sorts of me as well. Many of the fans of the team patted me on the back, telling me that they missed my coverage of the team and hoped that one day I would return to cover them again.
When the final buzzer sounded and Dixie State had won, I spoke most of the players I’ve interviewed for the better part of three seasons. Wrote a story that made me remember all the good stories I’ve written on the beat and how each season ended with a loss (as the case with 63 other teams).
It was a nice feeling overall, and I even got to hold the conference championship trophy, albeit similar to the one I won in children’s leagues. The drive back was slightly brutal, but I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel or even doze off for a second, which is a victory for me since for some reason driving to California, there’s always a stretch where I awaken to a sudden jarring sensation.
Either way, the madness of March has begun, and it even made driving to Southern California for a mere eight hours worth it.