RALEIGH, N.C. — Mainers migrated south by air and land to see their Black Bears participate in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
A planeload of Bear-backers touched down at Raleigh-Durham International Airport at noon on Friday, two buses rolled into town, and many people attended a pair of pep rallies designed to whip the fans into a frenzy.
But while just before Youngstown State and Memphis took the floor for the first game of a two-game session at Reynolds Coliseum, one Maine fan took a little time to sit back and relax.
Barry Crawford of Belfast didn’t have anyone to share the driving duties with, but he wasn’t actually driving solo: his dog April rode shotgun for the 15-hour journey.
Crawford broke the trip into three sections, leaving on Tuesday, stopping outside New York City to sleep, and staying two days in Virginia Beach with friends before heading to Raleigh.
Crawford said he has traveled to many Maine games, but his attendance at home games is nearly perfect.
“I’ve been to 63 of 64 home games over the past four years,” he said. “I missed one due to a snowstorm.”
Not coincidentally, Crawford’s interest in women’s basketball parallels the arrival of Cindy Blodgett in Orono.
Crawford said he began watching Blodgett during her freshman year in high school and has evolved into a fan of the entire women’s game.
After driving the entire way down, Crawford said he had a plan for the return trip.
“I’m gonna see if someone from one of the fan buses wants to come back with me,” he said.
Many Mainers were dismayed by the selection of Vermont’s Karalyn Church as America East player of the year, feeling that Cindy Blodgett deserved the honor.
North Carolina State fans felt the same way about their top player, senior forward Chasity Melvin.
Despite setting an Atlantic Coast Conference record by being selected as league player of the week five times this season, Melvin lost out to North Carolina’s Tracy Reid.
Bruce Cooper, who guided Cindy Blodgett through her years at Lawrence High School in Fairfield, wasn’t about to miss her final trip to the NCAA Tournament.
After learning that the Blodgett-led Black Bears were bound for Raleigh, N.C., Cooper cashed in a couple of personal days from his teaching duties and hit the road. Cooper and his father, Walker Cooper, left Fairfield Thursday at 3 p.m. and arrived in Raleigh at 5 a.m. Friday.
“This is fun,” Bruce Cooper said. “I really looked forward to the opportunity to come down and be a fan like the hundreds of other people.”
Cooper, who was prepared to do some serious “trash talking” seated several rows behind the North Carolina State bench, continues to marvel at Blodgett’s success.
“I think she’s had a wonderful career,” he said.