[note: this was written before I left for the Notre Dame game. I did not press ‘publish’ because my computer internet was a bit wonky. look for my post about the ND game in the next week. brain is still trying to process everything. but enjoy this calm before the hurricane.]
We have arrived. Indianapolis, 2011. The site of the Women’s Final Four. It’s almost game time. Can you handle it?
This trip never gets old for me. There’s so much stuff to do, so many people to see, and this year with the addition of the baby, everything feels fresh.
Last year at this time, I was sunning myself in the San Antonio heat. This year…I am in weather that is exactly the same as CT, although without the dusting of snow we seem to have gotten back home. April Fools, indeed. Good work, Mother Nature.
But first, let’s back up. Georgetown.
Last weekend for the East Regional I managed to hitch a ride with the team to watch the Georgetown game in person with my family, but afterwords I drove home with Jenna and Lovebug in order to make my 9:30 class the next morning. I knew that if we were to make the Final Four, I’d be missing those seminars, and I’d be much better off missing just one Monday’s worth of class instead of two. Besides, due to my teaching commitments next year I won’t be able to go on any trips, so I wanted to make this year count.
Philadelphia proved to me that this year would be different than any other – the addition of a baby in our travels, after all, makes things just slightly more complicated. In no other year have I been drafted to change a diaper at a Regional gym site, or skipped a shootaround to bounce a child on my lap while his Mommy takes a much needed nap or heads to grab a quick dinner downstairs. We ended up going to a very nice restaurant on the Philly waterfront and watched the men’s Regional final games on TVs the wait staff had placed at strategic points around the room. Nothing like a quiet dinner punctuated with screams of “GO TO WORK, KEMBA” ricocheting around the restaurant.
The Georgetown game, as you all know if you read my Twitter (@alysamarsiella), was just short of traumatizing for me. We couldn’t hit water if we fell off a boat, whereas the entire Hoya team seem to be possessed by the ghost of Pete Maravich. It was psychotic to watch. I ended up stress-eating a giant Philly soft pretzel covered in honey mustard sauce and when that didn’t work I ended up running for the bathroom just to get away and collect myself, something I know my uncle also did, in case you all wonder where I get my panicky nature from. At least I came back down for the last five minutes of the game…poor Uncle Ferruccio didn’t even feel relief enough to do that. He ended up coming back into the arena about five minutes after the final buzzer, just to be safe. The person who suffered the most was my Nonna, who did not leave the arena but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t anxious. Her stomach was in so much pain from the nerves she didn’t eat the entire day, and by the end of the game my cousin Marsi was shoving Utz pretzels down her throat just to get her some carbohydrates.
Thank goodness for Lorin Dixon. She came in and reinvented our offense, something we desperately needed at that point of the game. By taking Stefanie out, our game plan sped up exponentially and the pace worked to our advantage.
Monday night after my classes were over, I met up with Jenna and Todd to watch the night of Regional Final games. The Tennessee game was amazing to watch. For the first time in a long, long time, I found myself rooting extremely hard for Notre Dame to win. I even pulled out a Kelly green fleece and rocked it for the majority of the game. Now, I know what you all are thinking – why wouldn’t I want a Tennessee/UCONN rematch? That’s what everyone and their uncle wants. Not me. It would be a media circus, and I don’t even like regular circuses. I don’t want my Dad or the players to deal with that hoopla, and despite how badly I wanted us to destroy Tennessee, I couldn’t bring myself to root against Notre Dame. That being said, I would be lying if I said a fourth matchup with Notre Dame didn’t make me apprehensive. It’s the fourth time we’re playing them, for crying out loud! But they deserved to win that game, and for one reason only: they proved extremely effective in isolating the weaknesses of Meghan Simmons as a freshman guard. She is their leading scorer and when the Irish took her out of the game with those two quick fouls, you knew the Vols were doomed. Add to that the almost superhuman efforts of Brittany Mallory, Skylar Diggins, and Natalie Novosel (along with the play of the game by Devereaux Peters), and the experience trumped passion. Also, something that trumps intensity? A solid game plan. And execution of that game plan. Talent can only take you so far. It takes actual X’s and O’s to win a game.
We arrived Thursday after a pretty standard plane ride. The airplane crew took a big liking to Lovebug, and even had some great advice on how to handle cabin pressure upon landing (just let the kid scream. It pops the air). After a picture opportunity at Conseco Fieldhouse in front of a Formula 1 car dressed in the NCAA logo, the team and the family headed to the hotel for food and rest. We were welcomed at the hotel by a coterie of fans and high school students, and the leader asked Dad to come up and say a few words. She then proceeded to call up a player to wave and get her picture taken. I know what you all are thinking. But it wasn’t Maya. Wasn’t Tiffany. Wasn’t Stefanie. Wasn’t even Lorin Dixon. Nope, the player everyone wanted to have a spotlight moment was the hometown girl, Kelly Faris. It was the best moment of the day for me. That, and walking in and seeing complimentary fruit and granola bars laid out for us. I immediately stuffed two apples and several oatmeal raisin bars into my purse. I’m a sucker for free food.
Friday was a lazy day. I hung out at the hotel with Jenna and the baby for most of it, helping out when I could. Todd wasn’t due to come in until that night, so I was drafted to take care of the little things so Jenna wouldn’t tear her hair out. He is an incredibly well-behaved baby, so it wasn’t too hard. Although he does like to pull hair.
Friday night was the Salute Dinner and Presentation and I took Mom’s seat so she could stay and greet my Nonna, uncle and aunts as they came in from Philly. This year at the Salute we had great food; the inclusion of salmon was a welcome sight for us Catholics who were observing Lent Friday. Thank goodness, because last year Kelly Faris and I were staring at plates full of potato chips, trying to figure out what else we could eat that wouldn’t damn us to hell.
For the actual Salute part of the evening, the theme was Cirque du Soleil (or Cirque du Salute). As well as offering us tons of props to play with (I immediately snagged a boa), the presentation itself was a full on circus. Lots of clowns, contortionists, hula hoopers, balancers, and one incredible aerialist with insane biceps who performed a beautiful routine on silks while “The Power of the Dream” played. I still really dislike that song, but kudos to that country singer who keeps on coming back year after year to sing it for us. This year they added the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, which I thought was a sweet touch.
The presentation was hosted by Sage Steel, and she did a good job and was very funny but I wish she had talked less and let the players/coaches talk more. The stories about her daughter becoming inspired to play basketball from watching our Baylor game were cute, but I would’ve liked to hear more from Gary, Tara, Muffet and Dad (maybe not as much from Dad).
There were a few moments of awkward flirting between Sage and Gary Blair, as well as a moment where Dad told her he had gotten his toenails painted Husky blue because Muffet had gotten an Irish green manicure (“I got them professionally done,” he deadpanned, causing the ND team to roar with laughter).
Saturday morning was again very lowkey, after the announcement of the State Farm All-America team. I was pretty happy with the picks and THRILLED with the addition of Courtney Vandersloot. I was even more excited about that, I think, then Maya winning her 3rd Wade Trophy. Courtney is one of the most talented point guards I think I’ve ever seen, so to see her finally get her due was wonderful. Of course, Maya picking up her hardware was pretty great, too.
After the AA team announcement and a workout, I met up with Nonna, Aunt Anna, and Todd along with Jenna and Mom and the baby for lunch at Panera. Bellies full of Thai Chopped Chicken Salad, we headed to Conseco to watch our open practice. It was pretty straightforward. Lots of drills. There was one hilarious moment where a guy came up to Nonna asking for her autograph. Those of you who know my Nonna’s story know that she cannot read or write, so she just said “No.” Well, Jenna and I felt really bad for the guy so we proceeded to chase him through Conseco Fieldhouse and finally flagged him down around the autograph line. We tried to explain to him the situation, but he stopped us. “I KNEW that!” he exclaimed. “When I left, I remembered, and I thought to myself ‘Eric, you are such an asshole!'” We got a kick out of it.
Last night we dined at a very nice steakhouse near the hotel. The restaurant is an Indianapolis institution with a very famous shrimp cocktail. What makes it so special? The sauce is hot enough to blow your eyebrows off. I thought Lorin was going to die. Still delicious, though! I sat closest to Lorin, Caroline, Stefanie and Michaela and we had a great time.
The TVs were set up for us, which was great because this time I could actually look at the TV without getting a sprained neck. We stayed for the first half of the men’s game, and then I headed back to watch the baby and check out the ending. We are on one of the higher floors of this hotel, and to hear people screaming that loudly from the bar downstairs warmed my heart. Here’s hoping they’re as energetic as that tonight!
Some other fun things to consider:
1. The people of the Midwest are incredibly nice. To the point where I feel like an asshole just by being a Yankee.
2. Starbucks in the hotel? Good. Starbucks in the hotel that closes at noon on Saturdays and Sundays? BAD. Poor Shea. I thought she was going to cry.
3. Having a Panera across the street from the hotel is deadly. On Friday, they had to give me a shopping bag for all of the stuff I ordered for Mom, Jenna and myself. Big eaters for the win.
4. Shock resistant treadmill. Enough said.
5. Stefanie Dolson knows how to work an opera mask.
6. No matter how many Final Fours I go to, no matter how many tournaments I witness, every single one is new and different. I am incredibly blessed, I’m aware. I appreciate and value every moment of this journey and nothing escapes my gratitude.
7. Babies sleep remarkably well during a thrilling semifinal victory. It’s only after the game is over that they get fussy. Athlete in training, much?
Off to hang out with the baby and try not to get nervous…fourth time, hopefully, will not be the charm for the Irish…
PS. I got recognized at the Salute dinner. It was really weird, but kind of awesome.
[that last sentence is haunting me!]