As far as anybody who is a part of the Cal Spirit Squad knows, The Pac-10 Tournament or Pac-12 as we have to call it now, is the best travel trip of the year. It's better than the LA football trip and most bowl games that we get sent to. It's a good 3-4 days of enjoying LA sunshine (not gonna happen next year! Hello Vegas! ) some good basketball at the already historic home of the Lakers, and some true inter-collegiate spirit bonding.
So you do whatever you can to make sure you get on that trip. For me that included taking a midterm early, and arranging two other midterms and making sure I was keeping up with all my lectures. No big deal. After that bitter taste that was left in my mouth after two consecutive losses, including one to that team across the bay that will remain nameless that stripped us of the would be second conference title in 3 years, I knew the Pac-12 Tournament was the only way to resolve that issue. Of course, at the time, I didn't know that would ensue. So I was still extremely excited. So here's a recap from the view of a Spirit Group Member after the jump.
Wednesday, March 7th
We boarded the bus to get to the airport around 6 pm. Any time we go through security and travel, we're pretty identifiable. The Dance Team and Mic Men always wear travel sweats and the band always wears their straw hats. Depending on the trip, we sometimes travel charter with the team. But a quick trip to LA doesn't usually merit that.
So we flew commercial with Southwest. We waited to board and got on the plane. The usual way anyone else would. But the best part about getting there is when we takeoff, a band player takes a trumpet and plays the intro to "Fight" and everyone starts singing it. It's awesome. Everyone else on the plane who doesn't know that the Cal Band is on the flight just flips out and enjoys the oral tunes of Fight for California.
I've also started a tradition also where I convince the Flight Attendant to let me get on the PA of the Plane and do a Go Bears on 3 yell.
We got to the hotel late at night so it was time for some rest to get ready for the game the next day. Checking in to the hotel is always a hassle because we are about 50 people and have about 25 rooms to check in to. But our administration in Cal Athletics does a good job of managing those things. The first thing you see when you get to the hotel, which is usually NOT the team hotel, is other teams' spirit groups. For some reason, the Pac-12 puts up every school's spirit squads at the same hotel and always away from the teams. Probably smart planning on their part.
But we were here and ready to root on our Golden Bears!
The next morning, the day was ours until call time about 2 pm. 2 is call time and you need to be ready and down in the hotel lobby to get to Staples Center for the game.
We had to split our groups because the men and the women had very close game times that day. So we sent half of our contingency to the Women's game at Galen Center and the other half went to Staples. I followed the Men's game for this round of the tournament at Staples so that's the direction this post will follow for now.
Security gets really strict to get into the Staples. ID and credential to get in. I do hate the fact that my favorite basketball arena has security guards who all wear RED jackets. I hate it! But the cool thing about entering is that we get to go in where all the locker rooms are. That's right, the same floor that Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum walk on. Being a Laker fan, I was in heaven.
They normally have a room for band and cheer to stage in, for us to put our bags in, stretch in, warm up and go over routines for the cheerleaders. Being a Mic Man, you just get grouped into the whole "cheer/dance" group so you just go with it. The cool thing is we get to meet other spirit groups from other schools and see what they are like.
Our first game was against the Furd. So there wasn't much talking going on between us. A smile here or there but no real bonding going on. We all chill in that room until game time and just get pumped.
From there, it's game time. Our credentials get us to most places like the floor of the arena, because that's where they normally put us for the game. So you get to come out of the tunnels that all the players come out of. It's pretty surreal. And then you just come out to the court side, and you look up and all around you and it's a scene.
Our first game was against Stanfurd so naturally, our guys were pumped. But in case you had ANY doubt, from my vantage point, standing in that hallway where the team runs out and seeing those guys there was magical and would've put out any of your qualms. Phrases such as "Let's GO!" and "Come on we are NOT losing to this team TWICE. It's never happened. Let's Go!" were coming out of that fired up huddle. To be standing next to that, and being able to witness that was a special moment for me. Then they ran out. And they routed Stanfurd's men from there.
We had also just seen Washington get upset by Oregon State, so hopes for a tournament title were even more escalated and we were ready to go and root on the guys for a win.
As Spirit Groups, we get great seats. We're courtside and can see the players' sweat. Granted, it's not sideline and it's baseline, but still, for college students, it doesn't get better than that. Also, it's not a home game for ANY team, unless you're UCLA and Staples is in your hometown (who had a really good showing 2 or 3 years ago, but didn't have a good one this year because of their lackluster season.) So as Spirit, you need to know your boundaries and who to cheer to. (I got in to a huge oral altercation with a fan later on which you'll see.)
The Cal Bears section had a good showing: a good enough amount of fans to have a cross stadium GO BEARS cheer happen between the Spirit Groups and the general Cal Fan sections. But no matter the crowd, us Cal Spirit people go at it no matter what, to the final second. Band can sometimes get disheartened and lose interested if we're getting blown out, bud Dance and Cheer always have to keep a smile and always keep cheering.
The Bears won the game and the Band played our lights out fanfare and Palms of Victory; all the same things that we would normally play when we win at home. From there it's headed back to the hotel and free time until the next game.
If you're able to catch some other spirit group members from other schools around the hotel, you get the chance to hang out with them or go get some food with them which is really fun. I was able to meet some Arizona cheerleaders who were really friendly.
The next morning wasn't an early morning either. We had the women's game at 2:30 against Washington St. and the Men's game that night against Colorado. Because the games were at different times, we were able to send all of our contingency to both games.
We started off with the women's game at 2:30. Call was a couple hours before game time so we loaded the buses up around noon and headed to Staples for the women's game. The women were favored and were expected to go to the finals for a rematch of the Battle of the Bay against Furd. So the game was also decided early. It was the same protocol as the men's game.
I got to see the women's team in the hallway too, just like the men the night before, getting pumped and those girls get crazy before a game. They have so much energy, especially this past season, and it was great to see all of that manifested into the tournament at the time.
After the women won the game, we had a couple of hours of down time before we had to be back for the men's game, so we got to chill at what the Pac-12 called "Fan Fest". Fan Fest is basically booths set up for each school's marketing and alumni teams to get their brand out. I have to say our Cal Marketing team always shows up full force every year (way more than other schools) and puts out some fun things for fans to do and get involved in. I went to the Stanfurd booth, in my uniform nonethless, and was able to win a red shirt. I'll leave it to all of your imagination what i did with that Stanfurd shirt. There's also some other companies that are sponsors of the tournament who set up booths to get their brand name out and gave out some free prizes if you sign up for their mailing list and to just buy into their brand. But by far the coolest part of Fan Fest is the setup they have at LA Live which is next to Staples and Nokia Center. There, the Pac-12 sets up a mock basketball court with two hoops and has some rent-a-refs and an MC to have fans just shoot around and have knockout competitions and skills competitions such as 3point contests. Winners would also get prizes from tournament sponsors.
The cool thing about this setup was it was exactly where Battle of the Bands would be for a Pre-Game Rally. We did one for the game against Washington St. and then an even bigger one for the game against Colorado.
For the men's game, we met up at the LA Live setup I mentioned above and got ready to battle Colorado for better Spirit Group with a Battle of the Bands. Cal Band always plays out any other band. There's no doubt to that. Oski was also a way better mascot than their Ralphie the Buff. Also, they don't have a counterpart to Mic Men so we definitely won in the doing yells part.
HOWEVER, Colorado Athletics sent 50 of their most dedicated students to the tournament: flight and hotel all covered for their entire stay. (I'd hate to say it, but that was part of the reason why they won the tournament.) At the rally, we got a lot of hate talk from those Colorado Students. They were talking trash to our Dance Team, and our band. It took a lot out of me to not talk back to them because I was in uniform and wanted to show how much class we have as Cal Fans. (Some consolation coming up.)
After the rally, which we won, we headed into the stadium for the game. The crowd was pretty packed. Had to have filled up the entire lower bowl of Staples. The consolation about their students trash talking was one of the montages they played on the jumbo-tron before the game. They did a feature on academics of the schools playing where they would ask students on each campus questions. One of the questions was a real easy question that asked which fraction was less 1/2 or 3/9 and the kids at CU got the question wrong. In addition, and this was something most of our Cal spirit section, including the Cal Band, couldn't believe: the montage mentioned that Colorado's average SAT score was around a 1200/1300. I don't really know if that's true, but that's what came out on the jumbo-tron. So, payback tastes sweet!
The game itself was nerve-wracking despite the score. It looked as though there were times that Cal was going to come back, but it just didn't happen. There was an Arizona fan mouthing off to us during the entire game, especially to me each time Colorado would score. We got into a intense verbal fight. I showed him up though. He was a 40 year old guy and I skunked him by letting him know he was arguing with a college kid and that he should get a life. After an exhausting game on all of our parts and a bitter loss, we headed back to the hotel.
An interesting point to note was that Coach G, our women's team skipper, went among the fans that were here for the men's game and told them to come to the women's game the next day because they had made the championships against the Furd. I thought it was a great marketing strategy to get her up there to rally the fans for the next day in addition to the game currently at hand.
We had an early morning the next day and most people were tired from the men's game so most people hit the hay and rested up for the next day.
Saturday, March 10
Luckily, we didn't have to go home yet because our women's were still in the Finals!
As a Spirit member, it's always hard to cheer after you've spent so much energy and emotion into one game, but we had to keep at it, because at the time, we knew that a women's win over Stanfurd would be a lot bigger than one for the men's. So we kept at it.
We did another pregame rally against the Stanfurd Band, which is ALWAYS annoying to watch and hear from. After that event, we headed into the Staples Center for the championship game for the women.
We had to be pumped. The women were pumped. The fans were pumped. In fact, the turnout for the women's game on the Cal Fan part was just as good as the men's game which is saying something about the program that is improving here at Cal. Coach G has done some great things with her team in just her first year and I can't wait to see what she makes next year.
Unfortunately, the game that we were all hoping would be a way to get that bitter tastes out of our mouth after the previous night turned out not the way we wanted. Our women were just overwhelmed by the Cardinal despite a great first half. Sadly, we had to leave Staples with two heartbreaking losses.
Overall however, the women's team fought hard throughout the entire tournament. They made it to the finals!
From there, it was over. We had to depart just as we do for any away trip; if there is a flight out, we are on it, so we had to head to the hotel, pack and get ready to go back home to Berkeley.
It was an up and down trip to be on. BUT, it's always worth seeing our Bears play. There is no amount of lectures, midterms and what not that can stop Cal Spirit from coming to watch the Bears take on other teams.
And just like that, there was yet another Tournament finished.
But next year, we will be there yet again rooting on our Bears, in Vegas AND in Seattle.
So until then, GO BEARS!