Monday, September 20, 2021

Lessons abound in Wichita

March 21, 2011
The INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan., normally houses the local hockey team, Wichita Thunder, but is hosting the NCAA women's basketball tournament's first- and second-round games for the first time. The game between MSU and Northern Iowa was the fifth basketball game ever played in the arena since it was built in 2009. Lauren Wood/The State News
The INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan., normally houses the local hockey team, Wichita Thunder, but is hosting the NCAA women's basketball tournament's first- and second-round games for the first time. The game between MSU and Northern Iowa was the fifth basketball game ever played in the arena since it was built in 2009. Lauren Wood/The State News —
Photo by Lauren Wood | and Lauren Wood The State News

Wichita, Kan. — When it comes to NCAA tournament hosts, Wichita was not perfect. But few things are on the first go around.

What it has been is a learning opportunity — both for the community and for the players.

This is the first year the city has hosted an NCAA tournament and for many players, such as freshman center Madison Williams, this is their first taste of tournament as well.

Though Williams is not eligible to play because she was redshirted after tearing the ACL in her right knee at the beginning of the season, this year has been an opportunity for her to study the tournament from the sidelines, MSU women’s head basketball coach Suzy Merchant said.

Williams came to the team’s first-round game against No. 13 Northern Iowa dressed as a player, but during the game she was more like a member of the coaching staff, Merchant said.

Williams has been taking stats during the games as well as taking notes on opposing players so she can know what to do next season.

“I just said, ‘Alright Madison this is the NCAA tournament, this is the real deal’ and I said ‘I want you to look around and take this all in and understand. I know you can feel the pressure of the atmosphere.”’ Merchant said, “Next year you’re going to take us here and it’s going to be your responsibility to get us here and I want you to understand that.”

While Williams has learned how the tournament works and what to expect in years to come, the city of Wichita, in a way, has been doing the same thing.

Intrust Bank Arena, the venue where the tournament is being held, opened its doors last January and it placed bids for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 men’s NCAA tournaments.

Chuck Miller, owner of the Emerson Biggins Sports Bar and Grill in Old Town, Wichita, said the city was slow getting the word out about the games being held just blocks from his bar.

But Miller said he was happy to have any basketball played in the city. Wichita State University, played one game at Intrust Bank Arena during this past season and MSU’s game against Northern Iowa was just the fifth basketball game played on that court.

Kansas is a basketball-loving state and Wichita is a city that is itching for sports attention, and though he didn’t see huge turnouts for this year’s tournament, Miller said he would like to have another crack at it.

“I’d love to see the tournament come back,” he said. “We definitely like to see sporting events in the area.”

Emerson Biggins was one of four designated fan headquarters, it represented the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, the closest school to the venue at about 450 miles away.

Jessica Spiva, manager of the River City Brewing Co., MSU’s fan headquarters, said a few groups of dedicated Spartan fans have been in over the course of the tournament’s stay in Wichita.

Spiva said she hopes to have a good enough turnout to earn a spot in the men’s tournament some time in the next couple years, but even if that doesn’t turnout, this year has been an enjoyable experience.

“We decorated in Michigan State colors, all the waitresses dressed up in green and white and we dyed our house beer green,” she said. “We’re having fun with it.”

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