In this semifinal match, UW-Whitewater defeats Virginia Wesleyan 76-62 to move on to the championship round. March 10, 2012
Students covered in body paint, hoisting gigantic player photos and cheering nonstop have energized the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater men's basketball team as it competes for a national championship.
The Warhawks (28-4) defeated Massachusetts Institute of Technology 71-56 on Friday and will play Cabrini College (31-1) on Saturday for the title.
Though the championship round is in Salem, Virginia, UW-Whitewater played host to the semifinals, and the student section at Kachel Gymnasium erupted during each game of the Warhawks' postseason.
"Everyone has made an impact - players, parents, faculty, managers, coaches, cheerleaders, the dance team and, of course, the students," said Donovan Gregoire, senior.
During Saturday's victory over Virginia Wesleyan, Gregoire painted the words "As one, we believe" on his chest. Fellow fan Patrick Lockington, junior, sported a team jersey and purple headband, and led the crowd in chants and cheers.
"Growing up a huge sports fan and an athlete, being competitive is what drives me. I come with up some crazy ideas before every game," Gregoire said.
The most notable additions to the crowd are the oversized posters of each player's face, created and donated by senior team member Alex Edmunds' parents, Doug and Teri.
"We got the idea from watching College GameDay on ESPN. I said if [the Warhawks] made it into the NCAA tournament, we wanted to make our son's final season as memorable as possible," Teri Edmunds said.
Doug Edmunds, a professional photographer in Cedarburg, shot the roster photographs of the team, giving him high quality images to enlarge. They then cut and mounted the photos on foam core.
"I think it was a great surprise to everyone when they first showed up. The fans and parents love them, and I think the players really enjoy them too," Teri said.
The photos are roughly 2 feet by 3 feet, and will be part of the crowd this weekend in Virginia. Alex's sister Erin, a UW-Whitewater junior, hands out the photos to fans before each game and collects them afterward to ensure they stay in good shape.
"I've heard from players and coaches that their performances are fed from our student section," Gregoire said. "Every fan and every voice counts. We love the crowd numbers we have had recently and I can't thank the students enough because without them this wouldn't have worked."
Cabrini (30-1) vs. Illinois Wesleyan (23-7)
5 p.m. central time
UW-Whitewater (28-4) vs. Cabrini (31-1)
6 p.m. central time
This is UW-Whitewater's fifteenth appearance in the championship tournament and their fourth appearance in the final round. Head coach Pat Miller was this year's WIAC Coach of the year and he is in his tenth season with UW-Whitewater. Warhawks to watch include senior forward and WIAC Player of the Year Chris Davis, who averages 22.2 points a game and has scored double figures in all games this season.