MAAC On the Road: Ceder Falls, Iowa
by: Tania Kennedy, Assistant Director of Championships
One of the benefits of working for a Division I conference is that we get to travel to different games, events, and championship series. Teams that win the MAAC championship automatically qualify for the NCAA tournament and the MAAC generally sends one conference representative to support the team in its quest for a NCAA championship. In November, I was given the opportunity to travel with the Niagara Purple Eagles Volleyball team, the 2011 MAAC Volleyball Champions.
After Niagara won its third straight MAAC title, I waited anxiously, watching the selection show wondering where their site selection would take me. Last year I had the opportunity to go to Penn State to support MAAC volleyball. It was a great experience, but this time around I was looking for something on the warmer side. I was hoping I would get a call saying Niagara women’s volleyball team would be taking its talents to South Beach like Lebron did. That call never came and I was told to bundle up and head to the Midwest.
It was nice being out with Niagara’s volleyball team, who was taking on the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls for the first round of the NCAA tournament. It is not often that MAAC administrators have the opportunity to connect with the teams in our conference during MAAC championships because our event duties keep us focused. With NCAA travel, this changes, and Niagara was very welcoming and humorous to travel with.
When I got to Iowa, I met the team at the hotel and we drove over to the Olive Garden to have team dinner. As soon as we sat down I told the girls that I would be posting a picture of the team on Twitter. I thought there was going to be some resistance from the girls but they quickly posed for the camera. Coach Susan Clements, on the other hand, was hiding behind her menu.
As the trip progressed, I found the team to be a lot of fun. They were making jokes because I rented the smallest car known to man for the weekend. They even put on a full-fledged concert on the bus heading to practice. Seriously, I thought I was at Madison Square Garden for an Adele concert.
The funniest part was when the team started incorporating their bus driver, Rick, into every song. It was hilarious, and he was loving every minute of it. I can honestly say it’s special to be a part of a conference with teams that allow you to instantly feel like a member of their squad.
On game day, the team had a serve and pass at UNI’s gym in the early afternoon. UNI has an amazing facility. The girls began practicing and spiking the balls. I thought about helping the team shag balls, but then I had a traumatizing flashback from last year’s MAAC championship. When I was shagging balls last year, I got nailed by what felt like a rocket-propelled volleyball in the face. Reliving that moment in my head caused me to change my mind. Anyway, the athletes seemed loose and prepared to take on UNI.
The Purple Eagles took the court on Friday evening looking focused and determined to move on to the next round. The McLean Center was packed and it was a great atmosphere for college volleyball. As intimidating as the crowd seemed, they were all wearing purple since UNI’s colors are purple and yellow, which brought some type of comfort to the Purple Eagles.
Bus driver Rick and I watched the game together. You could see the connection the team made with Rick because he was probably their loudest supporter in Iowa. Niagara put up a strong effort but came up short. In the end, Northern Iowa proved why one it is of the nation’s top teams, besting Niagara in three sets. Still after the loss, the team was in good spirits and happy for the opportunity to play in the tournament.
After the game, the coach took us to a southern barbeque restaurant. The girls were still singing and laughing the rest of the night. They even showed me how to play a game to help the time pass as we waited for our meals to arrive.
The next day, the team and I were on the same flight to Detroit. I then flew to Newark Airport and they headed back to good ol’ Buffalo. Overall, I had a great experience in Iowa with the squad. Niagara women’s volleyball team did a tremendous job representing the MAAC in the NCAA Championship, and had I had the opportunity to see another host venue and enhance my event experience.