Green and gold on the red-eye to Indy

by joey  |   

One fan gets his shot with Spirit at the NCAA Division II women's national championship in Indianapolis (photo by J. Besl)

One fan gets his shot with Spirit at the NCAA Division II women's national championship in Indianapolis (photo by J. Besl/UAA)

March Madness stretched into early April this year after a landmark season for the UAA women's basketball team. And for a packed 38 hours, 50 Anchorage superfans got a full taste of madness with an incredible itinerary that brought them to the championship in Indianapolis and back to Alaska in a day and a half.

Alaska Airlines and GCI-both corporate sponsors of UAA Athletics-organized the unmatchable package, involving a direct flight into Chicago on Sunday night, an immediate charter bus to Indy and a quick return home by Tuesday afternoon. In true sports style, here's a play-by-play (recorded in Alaska time, to provide a sense of the madness).

Sunday, April 3 9 p.m. - Seawolf supporters filled the Alaska Airlines Boardroom for a kickoff party, where GCI representatives were on hand with celebratory swag bags. "I'm really impressed with Alaska Airlines for putting this together with GCI. I can't believe it," said Mary Aschoff, one of several women's basketball alumnae traveling to the game. "It's such a great opportunity for UAA. I'm so grateful to both Alaska Airlines and GCI."

10 p.m. - Down at gate C1, Alaska Airlines staff carried in armfuls of green and gold balloons. The decorations were a H-O-W-L-ing  touch. Coincidentally, the boarding gate already featured unmissable UAA advertisements wrapping the pillars. It felt almost like the UAA faculty was bidding the fans a good trip.

10:30 p.m. - Dozens of loyal Seawolf supporters gathered for a massive group photo in the Boardroom before descending to the gate, where the celebrity treatment awaited. Dave Goldman, KTVA sports anchor, was on the scene as a one-man camera crew, kicking up energy another notch. This may be the only time so many people were so collectively ecstatic about boarding a red-eye flight out of Anchorage.

11:15 p.m. - Seawolf supporters spread across the plane, some even carrying UAA Bookstore bags as their carry-on. Just before take-off, the pilot-a UAA aviation alumnus-took to the microphone, announcing his Anchorage roots and extending a warm welcome aboard the "Lady Seawolf express." Hoots and hollers (and a few howls) filled the plane as the jet taxied to the runway.

Monday, April 4

3:30 a.m. - The northern lights shimmered over the horizon at the start of the five-hour flight. Later, as darkness faded, the few fans still awake were treated to a ridiculous tangerine sunrise as the plane flew over the Minnesota/North Dakota border.

5:40 a.m. - Touchdown in Chicago where, at 30 degrees, the early April temperatures were significantly colder than in Alaska. The local Alaska Airlines crew had printed up a "Go Seawolves!" sign and taped it to the gangway as fans marched off the plane.

7 a.m. - From one vehicle to another, fans filed onto a waiting charter bus for the three-hour drive to Indianapolis. Boxes of breakfast quiche made their way down the aisle as the bus cut through the Chicago interstate system and, eventually, through a forest of wind turbines in the wide open countryside of northwest Indiana.

10 a.m. - The bus rolled through downtown Indy, past exotic sites (for Alaskans) like brick buildings and cherry trees. The Indiana flag-which also features gold stars on a navy background-whipped over the green-domed capitol building downtown. Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers, had been overhauled in Women's Final Four logos. A band out front blasted Bruno Mars covers as the fans unloaded for a celebratory photo before heading inside.

Feel the chill

The Lady Chaps felt the chill, and the heat, from the Seawolves. (Photo by J. Besl/UAA)

11 a.m. - The game tipped off at 3 p.m. EST and UAA fans filled cheering sections on both sides of the floor. Susan Schrader, a basketball coach in Ubley, Michigan, was sporting her recently acquired green and gold colors. This was the first year all three divisions of women's basketball played their championship games in the same city, letting more fans likes Susan get to know the powerful UAA squad. Though a fan of Grand Valley State (who UAA dispatched 67-47 in the Final Four), Susan bought one of the last UAA shirts from the NCAA fan stand. "Now we're Alaska fans!" she said.

11:15: a.m. - Fear not: The Seawolf song made an appearance over the speaker system. "Shout it from the Chugach Mountains!"

1 p.m. - Undefeated Lubbock Christian University led throughout the game, but a late surge by the Seawolves brought the crowd to their feet for most of the last quarter. The Lady Chaps took the title with a 78-73 victory. It was only the third loss for UAA, capping a season with 38 victories, the most wins in a season in NCAA Div. II women's basketball history.

2 p.m. - The bus pulled away from the curb in Indianapolis with the fans a little dazed from the journey, a little dismayed by the game's outcome, but grateful for the opportunity to see the home team play thousands of miles from Anchorage. Some folks called friends and family to report back, others scrolled through the day's photos on their iPhones.

Fans on the bus

Jerry and Shirley Dewhurst were philosophical after the came. It was a great season, they said, and they can't wait for next year. (Photo by UAA)

Jerry and Shirley Dewhurst dealt a game of gin rummy as they reflected on the season.

Both were glad to see a strong contingent of Alaskans at the game. "I've been really happy with the way Anchorage has turned out for all our men's and women's sports, especially for girls'  basketball and volleyball," Shirley noted. "It speaks well of the program to have so many people show up down here. I think it's great."

"I feel bad for the kids. It sure would have been nice to win a national championship," Jerry added. "But the season was phenomenal. I feel great about the coach and the program is in really good hands. I look forward to next season. That's all we can do this year-that, and thank the girls for all the entertainment and the wonderful things they did this year."

Tuesday, April 5

3 a.m. - GCI and Alaska Airlines provided a hotel breakfast before the fans boarded the shuttle back to O'Hare for a 9:35 a.m. CST flight. After 38 hours, two planes, three time zones and one incredible UAA fan experience, it was time to head home.

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