Or should I say…Bienvenudos a San Antonio, mi amigas!
That was probably heinous Spanish, but it’s the thought and enthusiasm that counts, am I right? Right?!
Out of all of the cities I’ve been to for a Final Four, I must say that San Antonio is my ultimate favorite (with Phildelphia being an extremely close second. I can only wish that all of you can someday experience the beauty of this city. Except for the heat. The heat/humidity is so bad, I swear I’ve inflated like a Nerf football.
The flight down was fairly peaceful, save for a few bumps every now and then. Our flight crew had decked out the side of the plane with signs and banners screaming out that yes, this was the UCONN plane. The flight attendant was a bit of a flake (i haven’t had the best luck with flight attendants lately, have I?). We flew out of a bright, sunny, warm Connecticut, so I was hoping San Antonio would be the exact same, only multiplied by 1000. We landed…and it was cloudy and slightly rainy. I sucked down all of my complaints and boarded the bus. We took a short detour to the Alamo for a team picture, which, of course, was just as great as I had remembered. It was a bit different being there in the height of spring, rather than the middle of winter.
The best surprise of the day came when we got to our hotel-a mariachi band and huge crowd, celebrating our arrival! We each got an Easter basket with chocolate Reese’s eggs and cascarones (confetti filled eggs), as well as offers of melon juice. We received a very warm welcome from the head of our travel party, and made our way upstairs for dinner (fajitas!).
I wish I could tell you that I spent the rest of the next day with the team, at practice. I wish I could talk about the ins and outs of everything that went down at closed practice, open practice, and beyond. But…I went shopping with my mom and sister, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch with plenty of guacamole, then hung out in my room and read magazines. It’s the simple things, really, that give me pleasure.
Friday night was the big welcome banquet, or ‘Premiere’. After the players got their rings sized and had some dinner shoved into them (literally…they kept ordering us to eat faster), we walked over to another ballroom for the main event. The NCAA treated the entire thing like the opening-night party of a huge movie, including the addition of a red carpet, which I thought was hysterical. I went with my sister, who kind of balked at the idea of walking a red carpet. As did I! I wasn’t playing in any of the games, why did I need to make a spectacle of myself? But it was all in good fun. I especially enjoyed the sight of my sister walking the red carpet looking straight ahead, holding a glass of water. She can do whatever she wants now, right? She’s carrying Geno’s grandchild.
Speaking of that blessed event, I’m so excited. I’m going to be an aunt! I’ve had to keep a lid on that news for about four months, so now that it’s out in the open I can just say we are pleased as punch and it’s going to be one loved, worshipped, spoiled baby. Moving on!
The inside of the arena was a cross between a movie theatre and a rave, complete with glow-in-the-dark rings and noisemakers shaped like stars, which my sister and I thoroughly abused. After an introduction by ‘party starters’ dressed like referees (I wish I were making that up), the teams were made to walk a kind of runway, with one spokeswoman from each team announcing them with a little tidbit about each team. Kaili was picked as our announcer, and personally I thought she was the best. The girls were escorted down the runway by a little blonde boy, who didn’t escort them so much as run behind them. When Dad was announced, he walked out, saw the little boy, and motioned to him like “What the hell are you doing?” It was classic.
After the intros came a question and answer session with the coaches, led by Hannah Storm. No revelations to report, although Dad got a huge kick out of Kim Mulkey’s leather jacket. “When do we get our official Members Only jackets?” he asked loudly. Kim’s reply? “I’ll trade you. You get the jacket, we get your timeouts and no shot clock!”
The night closed with a replaying of ‘The Power of the Dream’, the unofficial anthem of the women’s tournament. It’s supposed to be our ‘One Shining Moment’ of sorts…but honestly, both songs are awful. They just are. Not as bad as ‘Sneakernight’ by any means. But still. The night closed with me, my sister, and my mom in my mom and dad’s hotel room, eating Edible Arrangements and watching the replay of the 1995 national championship game on ESPNClassic.
Yesterday I was too exhausted and dehydrated from all the sun and fun to even do anything remotely related to the team, so once again I rainchecked. I spent the day out by the pool with my family, ordering lunch and watching my brother drink Dos Equis. It was a much nicer day than the day before, which had been unbearably sticky. That night came the arrival of my Nonna, aunt Anna, and my weekend roommate, my cousin Stephanie. I love Stephanie because we’re incredibly alike in a lot of ways: We both love makeup, clothes, shoes, and we have a tendency to be messy. We ordered room service and watched the men’s semifinals. I thought the moment shared by Bob Huggins and Desean Butler was one of the most moving and memorable of any tournament I’ve seen. You could tell that they really both just respect and love each other, and Butler’s agony on the floor gripped me in a way no fictional drama ever could.
Today is Easter, so once again, I spent the majority of the day with my family. Apparently CD had the team go on an Easter Egg hunt! After breakfast (where we heard a few people at the tables whisper loudly “It’s the whole family!” like we were God’s relatives), we went to church at the local parish which was very nice but it was led by a pastor who was the reincarnation of Harry Kalas. i thought he was going to start talking about Jesus’ RBIs.
I write this poolside, as the sun struggles to part from the clouds. It’s been off and on sunny today. And I’m not going to lie, so has my mood. On one hand, I’m extremely excited to watch tonight’s game. The other hand is terrified. I always get nervous, but this is different. I don’t want this trip to end like the last time my whole family came down to a Final Four-Tampa, 2008. I spent the night crying in my hotel room that night as I carefully repacked my things, waiting for the news about our flight home the next morning.
I hate that feeling. Let’s hope tonight isn’t a repeat of the worst kind…