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Behind the Scenes: NCAA Tournament weekend with the Pioneers

By Ryan Hannable
On March 20, 2012

Editor’s Note: I was given the opportunity to travel with the women’s basketball team to Chapel Hill, N.C. for the NCAA Tournament. I given full-access to the team, from the moment of leaving campus, to the actual game and the trip back to Sacred Heart. The following is an inside look of the Pioneers’ weekend trip in North Carolina.

Friday, March 16, 2012

After learning that they had earned the No. 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament, by way of their NEC Tournament Championship, Sacred Heart endured three full days of practice before departing at 7:30 a.m. Friday morning to North Carolina to take on the No. 4 seeded Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

The players, coaches, administrations, dance team, cheerleaders and pep band all arrived to campus early on a gloomy morning and boarded two coach buses en route to White Plains N.Y. for their charter flight to Raleigh, N.C.

After arriving at the airport about an hour and half early, everyone gathered in the lobby waiting to board the plane. Both excitement and anticipation filled the air as everyone was eager to get to North Carolina.

Flying on a charter plane certainly has its perks, as there isn’t as much security and you are able to walk out onto the plane, which was quite an experience for everyone.

It was only an hour and a half flight down to Raleigh and once the Pioneers landed, two buses awaited them on the runway. After unloading all the luggage onto the busses, Sacred Heart was on their way to the hotel.

Since the Pioneers were the last seed of the four teams at the Chapel Hill site, their hotel was the furthest from the campus (about 20 minutes, but closest to the airport, about 15 minutes).

After unloading all the bags from the busses and checking into the rooms, the team had some down time before practice late that afternoon.

Pulling onto the University of North Carolina campus everyone was looking out the windows of the busses at the beautiful campus, with trees over-hanging the road way, giving it a private college feel.

The team practiced in a recreational center gym, which was extremely hot inside as there was no air conditioning and no fans.

While the team practiced for an hour and a half, the administrators walked the campus, led by Senior Associate Athletic Director for Compliance, and Senior Women Administrator, Alicia Alford, who graduated from the school.

The group saw all the athletic facilities including the Kenan football stadium, but not the Dean Dome as it was quite the trek across campus.

Following the practice, the team headed back to the hotel for a team dinner and then a night of relaxing watching the men’s NCAA Tournament together.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The team would have a practice at Carmichael Arena, the site of their game on Sunday, but that was not until 4:30, so the team had a calm morning and early afternoon at the hotel together.

They had a team breakfast, followed by a film session, then time to them selves before departing for the arena shortly before 3:00 p.m.

Before practice coach Ed Swanson and seniors Alexis Campbell and Callan Taylor held a press conference for the media.

Following a light practice, to get used to the elements, the team headed back to the hotel to change for a team dinner at an Italian restaurant.

Joining the team for dinner were the entire administration staff that made the trip, Noreen Morris, the NEC Commissioner, as well as some of the team’s family members that made the trip in support of the team.

You wouldn’t know the team was less than 24 hours away from playing in an NCAA Tournament game as they were joking around with one another, having a good time.

Unlike some collegiate athletic teams, this team is very close. There are no cliques, everyone enjoys each others company, and wants everyone to succeed.

Following the family style dinner, Director of Athletics, C. Donald Cook addressed everyone, saying how proud the school is of the team for all that they have accomplished, thanking the administration for all the work they did all season long with the team, as well as all of the travel arrangements, and then the families for making the journey in support of the team.

The team returned to the hotel shortly before 9:30 p.m. and they got a good night’s rest as the next day would be the day that have been working all week and all season long for.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

It was game day. The relaxed, joking around team from the night before was now a focused group, primed for a first-round upset of the Yellow Jackets.

The team departed for the arena shortly before 8:00 a.m. for a shoot around, to get their bodies running and into game mode.

After returning to the hotel for a team meal, the team left for their 2:50 p.m. game around noon. They were greeted by the band, who played for them as they boarded the busses.12

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