Fans in the stands
Every year during the month of March, millions of American college basketball fans get swept up in what has come to be known as March Madness – a 68 team, single-elimination tournament for the right to be called national champions.
While Canadian Interuniversity Sport, much like Canadians themselves, has long held a reputation of being slightly tamer than its southern counterpart, for three days in March, the Centre for Kinesiology, Health and Sport at the University of Regina went more than a little mad, itself.
And, hosting their second national championship in four years, the U of R Cougars women’s basketball team gave their fans plenty to get excited about.
By the time the ball was tipped for the Cougars opening contest against the McGill Martlets, the atmosphere had already reached a fever pitch – thanks in large part to the U of R Rams football team, who let the Martlets know early and often what they were in for with their exuberance from the front row.
Cougars fans decked out in all different shades of green kept the CKHS buzzing even while the home team struggled through the first half.
Chants of “Dianna” rained down from the stands, directed at Martlets star point-guard Dianna Ros, for much of the game. When one referee blew down a questionable call against the Cougars, he got an earful as well – the “Bullshit” chants are still ringing inside the CKHS.
The energy in the building only grew during the second half when the Cougars found their groove, eventually disposing of the Martlets 68-53.
“They’ve put in a lot of hard work this year. The girls are fantastic,” said Steven Carston, who spent much of the opening game firing up the crowd in his full-bodied green spandex suit. “This crowd is so hyped up right now, and it’s going to just continue getting hyped up all weekend. It’s going to get better every game.”
The capacity crowd of more than 2,000 spectators that showed up for the Cougars next contest against the St. Mary’s Huskies proved Carston right.
Once again, the fans had done their homework, jumping on Huskies all-star Justine Colley from the opening tip.
Colley has been a threat for the Huskies all season, and was named the 2013 CIS women’s basketball player of the year, but you wouldn’t know it by the way a surging Regina crowd rendered her completely ineffective on a Saturday night in March.
“It’s just a big party, I love it. It’s awesome. It makes me want to go to university.” – 16-year-old Cougars fan, Chris Dimas
The constant chants of “Justine” turned to a joyous rendition of “Overrated” by the second half, and Colley and the Huskies were left looking for answers.
The St. Mary’s coaching staff tried to combat the noise by using flash cards to call their plays, but it did nothing to curb the home team’s dominance.
By the time the final buzzer went, the Cougars had dismantled the Huskies 78-49.
“It’s fantastic. There’s so much energy in here, and when we were making our runs (the fans) were right behind us,” Cougars head coach Dave Taylor said after the game. “It’s a fun place to play, and the other teams are saying that too. This is a great experience for them, it’s great for women’s basketball, and what a great way for our girls, our fifth-year kids, to finish up.”
One of those fifth-year players, CIS All-Canadian Michelle Clark, said the crowd was a “huge factor” in the Cougars’ first two games.
“I know I drive a lot off of the energy in the gym, and it’s been great,” Clark said. “For us it’s been phenomenal. All the support that we’ve got from the community has been perfect.”
Though the community was out again in full force for the national championship final on Sunday afternoon, it wasn’t meant to be.
Playing in front of an announced crowd of 2,716, the Cougars fell to the two-time defending champion Windsor Lancers by a score of 66-57.
But despite the loss, the Cougars and their fans have a lot to be proud of both on and off the court.
Their showing at the 2013 CIS Championships displayed to the country a student body and a basketball program very much alive with talent and school spirit, which is exactly what organizers were hoping for.
Perhaps 16-year-old Chris Dimas, who entertained the crowd with a half-time drum solo during the Cougars opening game, summed it up best.
“It’s just a big party. I love it,” he said. “It’s awesome. It makes me want to go to university.”
Photo by Arthur Ward