SALEM, Va. — Before the Augustana College basketball team went through warm-up drills Friday night at the NCAA Division III Final Four, fans of the Vikings warmed up as well.
Several hundred fans attended a social hosted by the college at the Salem Civic Center two hours before Augustana’s national semifinal game tipped off.
The Vikings beat Williams 90-79 in that Friday night game, and were cheered on by support from fans of all ages.
“Couldn’t miss it,’’ Marilyn Pritchard of Moline said. “We were here two years ago when Augie got this far, too, and this team has been so much fun to watch.’’
Augustana graduated its top six scorers from a 29-2 team a year ago, making this year’s Final Four berth and 23-8 season somewhat unexpected.
“These guys have worked their tails off to get here, and there was no way I was going to miss it,’’ said Clayton Sommers, an Augustana sophomore from Des Moines.
Sommers and some friends made the 12-plus-hour drive to western Virginia, arriving just in time to slip on some cowboy hats and well-worn sports coats before the start of the pregame rally.
“I was here two years ago, too,’’ Augustana student Aaron Lawrence of Bettendorf said. “I came with my parents that time, and it was a good time. We’re all planning on having a lot of fun this weekend.’’
With only one senior in the lineup, Sommers wouldn’t mind making the trek to the Salem Civic Center, the traditional host of the Division III Final Four, an annual endeavor.
“It’s been great being at every game and watching the team improve and get better as the season went along,’’ Sommers said. “The future looks even better, and we’ll be here with them every year.’’
Before listening to Augustana President Steven Bahls thank guests for their support, Pritchard said she likes the way this Vikings team has battled.
“They never give up,’’ she said. “They’re an easy team to like because of the way they fight, the way they get after it.’’
Nancy Moe of Batavia, Illinois, is an Augustana alumnus who also attended the 2015 Final Four.
“This is fun,’’ Moe said. “The attraction is the players; they appreciate their fans. We’ve had players come up and thank us for being there after games. That doesn’t happen everywhere. It creates a special bond that is unique to Augie. We appreciate them. They appreciate us. It’s a special thing.’’
At least one Quad-City area fan was in attendance Friday to support Williams.
Andrew Naeve, a former Cornell University forward from Miles, Iowa, was a college teammate of Ephs coach Kevin App and couldn’t miss his Final Four coaching debut.
“At any level, the Final Four is a pretty big deal,’’ Naeve said. “I’m really happy for him, and I know Augie has a strong program, too.’’