In my sleepy hometown of Winona, Minnesota (population 26,000) we live a good life. We don’t have much traffic congestion and there isn’t much crime. We are surrounded by incredible natural beauty, nestled between the Mississippi River and tree-lined bluffs. Folks who visit here from big cities think we’ve got it made. We probably do.
Across the street from my home on Main Street is the gymnasium at Winona State University. On weekends I sometimes walk across the street to watch a men’s basketball game. I’m not a consistent fan; I attend when it is convenient. Winona State University participates in NCAA division II basketball, one step below the “big time” programs. We don’t play Duke, North Carolina, or Gonzaga; we play teams like Northern State University in Aberdeen, SD and Minnesota State University in Mankato. Nevertheless, the competition is decent and on a cold, winter evening a WSU basketball game is about the best entertainment value you can buy for five bucks.
This year I went to five regular season home games and WSU won four of them. As a result, I figured they we had a pretty good team. I’m not a basketball expert, but WSU seemed to have a good defense, could score consistently on offense, and had the grit to come back in the last few minutes to win from behind. WSU won the conference championship and I figured they had as good of a chance as anyone to win the regional championship, which was held at Winona State University. Teams came in from Colorado, Kansas, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Minnesota. Because of their ability to come from behind, even in overtime, Winona State won the tournament and a trip to the “elite eight” in Springfield, MA.
Prior to the first game with Barton (NC), there wasn’t a lot of excitement in Winona. However, after beating Barton 86-78, it started to dawn on me that a WSU win over Stonehill (MA) would put us in the championship final game. I joined hundreds of local fans at a local hotel to watch the pay-for-view broadcast of Thursday’s game with Stonehill, which Winona won 83-73. On Friday, March 25, 2006 I said to my economics students, “It looks like we might have ourselves a basketball team!”
Now, as I write this blog, I am in a state of semi-shock, as WSU has just become NCAA-II national champions with a convincing 73-61 win over defending champion Virginia Union! WSU has a bunch of good players and a couple of outstanding players, but they don’t have a superstar. I know some of these young men because I teach at Winona State University. They’re good students for the most part, and really decent young men. They play basketball not for fortune or fame, but because they love the game. WSU hasn’t been playing Division II basketball very long and this is the first time we’ve reached the Elite 8, so I’m sure we will have a big celebration when these guys return to campus.
Congratulations to Coach Mike Leaf and the WSU basketball team. Are they that good?