Winter Playoff Recap

The MIAC Winter Playoffs and Championships were quite a three-week stretch. I personally attended three days and six sessions of swimming, three men's basketball games, two women's basketball games one men's hockey game, one women's hockey game and one day of indoor track and field. The postseason took me from Minneapolis to Moorhead to St. Paul to Blaine to Northfield and, finally, to St. Cloud, and now that I've had a few days to exhale, it's time to look back on some of my favorite (or not-so-favorite) memories and scenes from the Playoffs.

Harlem Shaking and Technical Difficulties
The 2013 Swimming and Diving Championships at the University of Minnesota was again a classic three days with exceptionally large crowds and amazing performances. I believe there were 10 all-time MIAC records set over the three days and 15 meet records and the swimming community is certainly unique in a great way. There's a real sense of sportsmanship and camaraderie that seems to be a little stronger in swimming than in nearly any of our sports, and I think the coaches throughout the conference deserve a lot of credit for fostering that atmosphere.

The best example of that sense of community has become - by far - the most popular video in the history of the MIAC's YouTube channel. Gustavus swimmer Grace Goblirsch is currently battling a very serious illness, so the Gusties and many other MIAC teams turned the MIAC Championships into a "Race for Grace" with t-shirts, temporary tattoos, chants and more. However, the Gusties had an even bigger idea for a tribute. At the start of Saturday night's final session, they got all the teams and spectators in attendance to participate in the "Harlem Shake" craze, dedicating the video to Grace.

The 30-second video went up on our YouTube channel before the session had ended, and just 24 hours later it had surpassed 3,000 views to become the MIAC's most-watched video. As of Monday, it was at 22,133 views. Some very preliminary research of other Division III Conference YouTube pages leads us to believe it is the most-watched video ever produced by a D-III conference. That's impressive in its own right, but it's an even bigger deal because the video is a touching example of rivals coming together to support someone in need. Anyone in attendance at Saturday's session - especially the student-athletes who went all-out - deserve a standing ovation.
I shared the video with my friends on Facebook that weekend and wrote, "Friday, I had no idea what the Harlem Shake was. Saturday, I was standing on the 5-meter platform filming an Aquatic Center full of people joining in on the craze. Sunday, it became the most-watched video in MIAC history." Pretty cool stuff.

That triumph - and a great three days in general - overshadowed a rough technological weekend for me. Our camera broke early in Thursday's second session, so we only were able to do a photo gallery from the first session. Then my cell phone decided to die Thursday night, and Verizon couldn't get me a replacement until Monday. So I spent our busiest weekend of the year without a camera or a cell phone. Fortunately, that's where the troubles ended. I was worried my laptop or car were next!

Basketball Playoffs up north
The basketball and hockey playoffs were up next, and after taking in Saint John's vs. Augsburg in Minneapolis, I headed up to Moorhead for three days of hoops at Concordia. I hadn't had the chance to make the trip up to Concordia's campus in my first two years with the MIAC, so I was really excited to finally cross the last campus visit in the league off my list. I got to eat a tremendous lunch at the Cobbers' dining hall, got a campus tour and was especially impressed by the new business school, and had a courtside seat for three great basketball games. I also got to invade the Cobber Sports Info office and run the MIAC's online playoff operations from there and couldn't be more thankful for all the hospitality.

The Cobber students get a shout-out for my favorite student-section moment of the winter postseason. During a "White Out" for Friday's men's semifinal game, a group of Concordia students had a special guest in the student section - the upper half of an actual once-live black bear, which was also clad in a white cobber T-shirt. I'm not positive, but I think the bear was a tribute to one of my favorite TV shows - Workaholics - as Cobber students were donning it as an homage to Blake's bear coat, and I think I heard a "Get weird" chant as well. Kudos, Cobbers.
Concordia also gets credit for the best/most unique in-game musical selections. It was like the DJ from my junior high dances was running the Cobber soundboard with a heavy dose of 90s rap and R&B. One stretch included: "Return of the Mack," "This is how we do it," and "Whoop! There it is." Tremendous, and definitely not something heard often alongside today's Gangham Style and Harlem Shakes. To quote Mark Morrison, it's always a treat when Return of the Mack gets, "back up in the game."

The only negatives about my trip to Moorhead? The Fargo-Moorhead area was hosting the world's largest squirt hockey tournament, and early Friday morning the youngsters in my hotel were getting in an early warm-up in my hotel, and I believe my door was designated as one of the "goals." They must have been pretty good because pucks were consistently banging off my door for almost an hour. I also had an extremely odd exchange at the mall in Fargo, where a guy approached me and started peppering me with questions, then asked if I wanted a part-time job working for him doing sales on the side. Clearly he didn't know anything about sports information if he thought I'd have the personality for sales, and the free time.

Game-winning goals
The following week was a fun one in "The State of Hockey." I was able to attend the women's hockey No. 4 vs. No. 5 game, where St. Kate's tied things up in the third, only to see Bethel star Cristina Masten net the game-winner with just a few minutes to play. Fun, exciting game and a thrilling finish. It's possible I also had an eye on my (new) phone tracking the Gopher men's basketball upset of then-No. 1-ranked Indiana for a double-dose of late-February Madness.

I tweeted a picture of my set-up at home Thursday as I had both hockey semifinals displayed on my laptop. I tuned in for both broadcasts to see two more one-goal games. Yesterday I figured out how to hook up my laptop to my TV with an HDMI cable, so I'm wishing I had learned that a week earlier for optimal MIAC Playoff webcast viewing. Oh well, I'm all set for next year!
Saturday my assignment was the Men's Hockey Playoff championship at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, so I showed up about an hour before the puck dropped with the MIAC Playoff plaque and the Ed Saugestad Cup. I learned that people are glad to hold the door for you when your arms are full with championship trophies! It was another great game decided by a goal with just over three minutes to play, and personally, I made it through the trophy presentation without slipping on the ice, so it was a successful Saturday all around!

Other Playoff notes
After three days of basketball on press row at Concordia, it was quite a change to move to the third-level press box for the men's basketball championship game at St. Thomas. I went from eye-level to bird's-eye view, but it was fun to have both unique perspectives.

Augsburg assistant men's basketball coach Ryan Kershaw gave me a great fact prior to the title game tip-off. The Auggies vs. the Tommies was the closest geographical men's basketball championship-game match up, edging out Bethel vs. UST. Usually it's a Twin Cities-area school vs. someone outside the metro. The proximity was certainly reflected in the attendance, as the near-full house made for a great championship atmosphere.

I spent one full day at St. Olaf for the MIAC Indoor Track Championship, and thought the host school did a great job with the event. The indoor track meet is almost a little sensory overload, but I'm sure its great for anyone with a short attention span. I particularly liked being perched up on the overhead warm-up track, where running events finished directly below me, high jump was going on just to my right and I had a great view of shot put and pole vault on the other end. There was also something fun to watch. The Ole Sports Info Office was on-par with Concordia in the music department which made writing the recap and posting a photo gallery an enjoyable few hours.
Winter season winds down
Many people think the busy winter season would end for us after the hockey championship games end and the track championship trophies are handed out. However, we're still busy into this week getting things wrapped up. We've met with each coaches group for their end-of-season meeting and will meet with the Athletic Director's council Tuesday. We've been announcing the awards for each sport and tracking our teams in the national playoff and championships.
It's been a great winter in the MIAC and hopefully the St. Thomas men's basketball team and Gustavus women's hockey team can keep the magic going.

This week the MIAC Media Blog will continue the Championship Coach Q&A series to highlight our champions in swimming and diving and indoor track and field. We'll be doing a few other fun things in this space as things slow down a little, so thanks for reading and stay tuned. As always, if you have a question for the MIAC Media Blog, ask it in the comments below or send me an email. I'd love to make this more interactive! Thanks to all the MIAC schools, teams and fans for making it a memorable winter season.

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