You may think that the first game on the men’s side of the WCC Tournament could be boring.
Well, as long as it’s March and there’s something to play for, no game is boring. That’s doubly true for the fans that have made the trip to cheer on their teams.
I ran into a group of Portland fans headed to their first-round game against LMU. Brady and Ashley Prigg, Katie Mania and Annie Caparoso were kind enough to share a couple of minutes, and a cookie, with me.
Fans are truly awesome.
This group had gone to Portland together, and they’d made this trip to the WCC Tournament something of a small school reunion as well as a yearly tradition. One of them had come all the way from Minnesota to Las Vegas just for this tournament.
If that’s not a fan, I don’t know what is.
When asked about what the best thing about being a Portland fan was, Caparoso told me, “The community of the fans. There’s a lot of spirit, and I think that everyone’s happy to be at the games and support.” Mania added, “I think my favorite thing is the beautiful royal purple that we get to wear.” Brady Prigg laughed and said, “I wasn’t a big fan of purple until I went to the University of Portland, and now I think it’s one of my favorite colors.”
The University of Portland should be proud of such loyal fans, and it was obvious that they were having a good time.
Jack and Marilyn Smith came supporting LMU. They’ve only been fans of the Lions for the past three years, and part of the reason is because they have a granddaughter on the women’s team. This is their second visit to the WCC Tournament. And even though the Smiths are proud LMU fans, they had some complimentary things to say about Portland’s win on the women’s side.
“I was really happy that Pepperdine won because they’ve had such a long losing streak in conference and then they knocked off Santa Clara,” Jack Smith told me. “Getting a win over Santa Clara had to be great for those girls.”
There’s a lot of sportsmanship to go around.
I also ran into Bernie Castillo just outside the arena, decked from head to toe in the green and gold of San Francisco. He’s an alumnus of the university, and all his kids went there as well.
“I’ve been a San Francisco fan for about 25 years. Well, maybe 30,” he told me with a chuckle.
This wasn’t Castillo’s first time to the WCC Tournament. “I’ve been coming since they’ve been holding it in Vegas.” Orleans Arena has been hosting the tournament for the past six years. He’s a Las Vegas local, and he loves having the tournament come to Vegas as San Francisco doesn’t typically play teams in this area.
And I even ran into some fans of teams who didn’t play on Thursday. Gonzaga fan Brad Sprague was there even though his Bulldogs didn’t play in the first round on either the men’s or women’s side. He wasn’t shy about telling me what’s great about cheering for Gonzaga:
“The enthusiasm of the fans. When the Kennel is hopping, it’s easy to be excited about basketball even when you’re not a basketball phenom.” He already had tickets to see his Bulldogs play, but he also wanted to take in the atmosphere at other games as well.
And the atmosphere was impressive, particularly in the tight men’s game between LMU and Portland. Both teams were well represented by loud, cheering fans in the stands supporting their teams. I was impressed with the quality of fans that had come to support their team.
So, Day 1 of the WCC Tournament is in the books. I will return to cover the fans at the women’s quarterfinals on Friday.
Lafe Peavler is a sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.