“It is one of the great things that’s happened since we’ve gone Division I and they’re out there leading the way!”
The enthusiasm was clear. The well-wisher had joined another 125 fans, the Aggie women and basketball staff. He was at The Graduate on Monday afternoon to shake hands, congratulate team members … celebrate wherever in the NCAA tournament his beloved UC Davis may settle.
A regular at The Pavilion, Chancellor Emeritus Larry Vanderhoef, on this day, blended into the crowd as just another fan.
When word came — the 24-8 Aggies are off to play No. 1 seed Stanford in a home game for the Cardinal — Vanderhoef was delighted. Another game, relatively nearby, to attend.
“It’s the best women’s team I’ve ever seen on (our) floor,” Vandehoef, who retired in 2009, offered. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a better one — and we’ve had some very good teams … just not as good as this one. Not only in talent, but in terms of the players working together and loving each other.”
As supporters trickled into the University Mall hangout, Aggie players and staff were already inside, watching a big-screen replay of Saturday’s 66-49 victory over Cal Poly in Anaheim. Up front were Vicky Deely, Hannah Stephens and Paige Mintun and coach Sandy Simpson’s 7-year-old daughter Ingra, congratulating one another on a good play. Laughing, high-fiving Deely when she took a charge, reliving the moment made the time go a little quicker as the women awaited the upcoming ESPN selection show.
At 4 p.m., the fans and Aggies settled in. Then came the announcement, the jubilation and congratulations.
Twenty seconds into the din, ESPN showed the Evil Empire: Stanford’s team was applauding. The Davis crowd let fly with a chorus of good-natured boos. The celebration continued — as Simpson, accompanied by wife Chris, Ingra, son Sebastian, 10, and daughter Olivia, 13, tried unsuccessfully to stay in the background.
“Making the NCAA tournament was our No. 1 goal,” Simpson said, smiling, after ESPN finished its tournament announcements. “Everything from now on is gravy.”
Jim Sochor, the Hall of Fame Aggie football legend, remembered back to the beginning of his UCD coaching days …
“All the time I’ve been here, I’ve been all for going Division I. This means that we have arrived, that we can compete, that we’re there.
“It’s big for the university and athletic program. It’s huge, very big.”
Athletic Director Greg Warzecka echoed Sochor’s thoughts, adding:
“This is a milestone accomplishment for the athletic department and the women’s basketball program.
“It’s a sense of pride for the whole campus. And the support staff works so hard and we try to say to the coaches and the student-athletes we’re there to provide the elements to be successful, and in this day and age, that’s not so easy.”
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or (530) 747-8047. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com