Traveling cross-country is not part of the standard Division III diet. When it does happen, like it did last week for Chapman’s women’s basketball team, there can be a clash of culture that’s both regional and distinct to each university.
When Chapman took its midnight March 1 flight to Saint Paul, Minnesota for the NCAA tournament, it was met with some unseasonably warm Minnesotan weather, with highs of 40 degrees.
“It was actually warm, according to their standards,” said head coach Carol Jue. “I even brought my London Fog (jacket) that I’ve had for 25 years, and I didn’t have to use it.”
With a full day ahead of their March 2 matchup against the University of St. Thomas, the team took a roughly mile-long walk from its hotel to the Mall of America. Every stop on the walk was an invitation for makeshift snowball fights, using the leftover snow from a three-day blizzard that coated Saint Paul days before the team arrived.
Chapman also felt a balance of hot and cold with a brief taste of the “Minnesota nice” culture ‒ a phenomenon of outward, over-the top niceness described in a 2014 opinion piece for the Star Tribune – that distances Minnesotans from others in often passive-aggressive ways.
From the hotel staff, to restaurant servers and the St. Thomas staff, Jue and senior forward Irma Munoz said that people were hospitable. But that courteous exterior faded once the game tipped off.
“It was hard,” Munoz said. “The fans were totally against us. The players were talking against us. It was a little rough.”
St. Thomas went on to beat Chapman 81-51. With five players 5 foot 11 or taller, compared to Chapman’s zero, St. Thomas outscored the Panthers 46-14 in the paint.
Besides being on its home court and having a height advantage over Chapman, St. Thomas has a tournament pedigree, qualifying for the Division III Women’s Basketball Championship every year since the 2011-12 season and reaching the national semifinal last season. Its facilities are also top-notch, Jue said.
“I think their fitness center is five times bigger than ours, very state of the art,” Jue said. “My girlfriend who moved from Montebello, (California) here ‒ she’s lived here 20 years ‒ said they call it the Notre Dame of Division III schools.”
Munoz said she’ll remember the times Chapman has traveled more than anything else ‒ even though the trip home was complicated.
Jue declined to have Chapman take a 6:50 a.m. flight March 3 so the team wouldn’t have to wake up at 4 a.m. to leave. The switch meant the women took two flights home – one departing at 9 a.m. with a layover in Seattle and one departing at 11 a.m. with a layover in Las Vegas.
Looking back on her final Chapman game, Munoz said she felt positive about the experience and the standard it sets for future teams.
“I think it creates bigger goals within our program,” Munoz said. “It paves the way for these girls next year. There’s more than just winning SCIAC and getting that championship. I think that adds value and I’m very proud to be a part of that.”