CSUB men's and women's basketball team members had their first exposure to a conference tournament last week, competing at the Western Athletic Conference Tournament in Las Vegas for the tourney title and the automatic-qualifier spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Unfortunately for Bakersfield, both teams won just one game and lost in a pair of well-played affairs in the semifinals; but the important thing was we looked the part and the exposure was tremendous.
First of all, the Orleans Arena and the Orleans Hotel are first-class operations. Imagine my surprised to see little ol' CSUB's logo plastered all over the hotel and casino. Elevator doors, signs, room keys, they all were a marketing tool for our program. Eleven years ago when I started as the radio voice of the 'Runners we were a small Division II institution; now we're showcased in Vegas like Wayne Newton. It was a trip.
With a conference boasting five new members in the tournament, you wouldn't tell by looking at us that this was our first rodeo. Our fans showed up, many students made the trip, our pep band in just their second year of existence got caught up in the hoopla as well, and sounded like a completely different group then they did all season. Our spirit program stole the show at a couple halftime performances and many other fans that saw our Rowdy Roadrunner mascot for the first time were lining up for pictures with our muscular bird-friend.
I, too, was pleasantly surprised at the atmosphere, the fan support from nearly every school in the conference. Just the pageantry of playing in March for a shot at the NCAA Tournament was an overwhelming experience. While many national writers wrote off the Western Athletic Conference when their football-playing members left, the memo never reached the thousands of fans who made the trek to Sin City for the 2014 tourney.
By the way, official numbers haven't been released, but early returns show attendance was actually up this season compared to last year. And the "experts" who were writing our conference's obituary -- hopefully they like the taste of crow.
What an experience! I think the lightbulb was turned on for everyone involved with our program's involvement in the tournament. Being able to see how other schools' fans, band and supporters are organized makes me believe that our culture will be heading in the right direction once Roadrunners supporters adapt, as well. More importantly, those who attended had a great time and I'm confident they will return next season -- and they'll bring even more friends.
We didn't win, we're not going to the NCAA Tournament, but to be a team that looked like we belonged in that situation was a victory in itself. I can't encourage you enough to clear your schedule next year during the second week in March and make the drive across the desert to Las Vegas and join us for this great experience.
They say a journey of a thousand miles starts with just a few steps. We took more than a few steps last week and are well underway into our journey of success. There's no experience like the first time experience, but mark my words, the second one will be even better.
COREY COSTELLOE, a Tehachapi High graduate, is Director of New Media and Broadcasting for California State University, Bakersfield.