November 21, 2014
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Road to the Final Four will run through Rhody
TOURNEY STOP: The Ryan Center at the University of Rhode Island will host the 2012 NCAA Women's Basketball East Regional later this month.

A few years ago, the University of Rhode Island put in a bid to be a host site for the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. It didn’t work out that time, but when URI put in another bid last year, it worked out better than anybody could have imagined.

URI will host the 2012 NCAA East Regional on March 25 and March 27 at the Ryan Center. The regional champ will cut down the nets and move on to the Final Four in Denver.

URI couldn’t be happier that the road to the Final Four is going though Rhode Island. The regional will be one of the biggest women’s sporting events in the state’s history – and it’ll offer some very good basketball.

“I think it’s going to be a great event,” said Gregg Burke, URI’s deputy director of athletics. “For historical reasons, it’s easily the second biggest women’s sports event in Rhode Island history. I think only the U.S. Women’s Open a few years ago would be bigger. And then when you look at the level of basketball, it’s just tremendous.”

The participating teams won’t be decided until the week before the regional, when first and second-round games are played, but there’s a decent chance perennial powerhouse Connecticut will come to town. The Huskies are ranked fourth in the country and have a good shot at being the top seed in the East region.

Regardless of who’s coming, though, URI is encouraging sports fans around the state to come out. Tickets are available online at gorhody.com.

“If you haven’t seen the top eight to 10 women’s basketball teams in the country, you’re really missing out,” said Thorr Bjorn, URI’s director of athletics. “They’re tremendous athletes and great players. Anybody who has daughters should really think about bringing them because they’ll have a great time.”

URI has never hosted an NCAA event like this, but the school is ready to put on a show. When the athletic department decided to put in a bid, the thinking was that the Ryan Center would be a perfect fit.

“I think it’s a great opportunity not only to market our facility, but also to bring light to our women’s basketball program,” Bjorn said. “It’s a win-win for URI and for Rhode Island.”

That applies to the economic impact as well. Two of the teams will stay at hotels in Warwick, one at the Crowne Plaza and another at the Sheraton. Burke, a Warwick native, expects the city to be busy, especially if UConn is one of the teams in the regional.

“On a Monday in mid-March, route two is going to look like the last three days before Christmas,” Burke said. “That’s one of the great things about this.”

Burke coordinated two hockey Frozen Fours and two NCAA men’s basketball championship events when he was at Providence College, so he’s taken the lead for URI in planning the regional. It’s no easy task, but everybody knows all the work will be worth it.

“I’ve been saying right now is kind of the storm before the storm – there is no calm,” Burke said. “It’s a ton of hours, but we have no complaints. We’re thrilled to be able to do it, and we have a lot of support from the university. What we remind ourselves is that, for a lot of these players, these four days are going to be one of the highlights of their lives. We’re the caretakers of that.”

In addition to planning for the tournament, URI has reached out to the community for its Adopt-A-Team program. Classrooms at elementary and middle schools around the state have been matched with each of the 342 Division I women’s basketball teams. Through a series of activities, students have had the opportunity to learn more about their teams and about the sport. Some classes have even become pen-pals with their team’s players, and the classes whose teams make it to the Ryan Center will get the chance to cheer on their adopted squads.

It’s all part of what URI hopes will be a memorable few days.

“On that Tuesday around 9 o’clock, 13 or 14 girls are going to climb a ladder and cut down the nets,” Burke said. “This is their dream, going back to travel teams and driving all over the place for tournaments. This is their dream, to play with a chance to get to the Final Four. What a great thing to see.”


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