Bright lights. Big stage.
Basketball teams from Augustana and St. Ambrose will get a taste of NCAA Division-I competition over the next few days with four early-season exhibition games.
"It's exciting to go into that type of environment, but you go there to compete, to try to win a game," Augustana senior Bryant Voiles said. "No matter the outcome, you come back as a better team because of the experience."
The Vikings play at Valparaiso at 7 tonight, taking on an opponent that returns two starters from a 23-win team that defeated eventual Final Four runner-up Butler at home.
The women's team from St. Ambrose also is in the state of Indiana tonight, visiting Indiana in a 6 p.m. game at the Assembly Hall.
St. Ambrose opens its men's season tonight at Hannibal-LaGrange, a game that precedes a pair of exhibitions against Division-I teams. The Bees visit St. Louis in a 1 p.m. game Saturday and travel to Chicago State on Monday at 7 p.m.
In addition to seeing a high level of competition, St. Ambrose teams will practice at the arenas the day before taking the court for the exhibitions.
The Queen Bees worked out at the Assembly Hall on Wednesday, and the Fighting Bees will practice at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis on Friday.
"Coming here from a Division-I program, I've talked to our kids about giving them the same type of experiences at the NAIA level that Division-I teams have, and this is part of that," said St. Ambrose women's coach Krista Van Hauen, who coached at Northern Colorado before taking over the Bees program a year ago.
"I wanted to get in a workout there before the game to give the kids a chance to look around, explore the environment a bit. Going into a Big Ten arena will be very different, and it's an experience I want our kids to enjoy, but I also want us to go there and compete."
St. Ambrose men's coach Ray Shovlain shares those sentiments.
"They have a beautiful facility at St. Louis, and two years ago it was good for us to get in and look around the place before we played there," Shovlain said.
Shovlain is taking every player on the St. Ambrose roster to St. Louis and after practicing there Friday, the Bees will attend a St. Louis Blues game Friday night.
The team will return home Saturday before traveling to its Monday game at Chicago State.
St. Ambrose played an exhibition at St. Louis two years ago. Returning all-American Mike Kennedy said the experience benefited that team.
"It's not a daunting situation, it's just a good test for this time of year," Kennedy said. "They're working on things, just like we are. I remember going down to St. Louis as a sophomore, and to go there and compete, it helped our confidence as a team."
Augustana has seen that level of competition before as well, playing a regular-season game at Gonzaga two years ago and competing against the Chinese National Team on a foreign tour prior to last season.
Valparaiso won its exhibition opener last weekend, edging Hillside 73-71 in its first game under coach Bryce Drew.
"Valpo is an excellent team and will test us in a lot of ways, but I want us to go over there and really compete," Vikings coach Grey Giovanine said. "Having this game has really caught our team's attention. I'm looking for us to have good energy and play with confidence. It will be a good test for us in a tough environment."
In many respects, it can be considered a win-win situation.
"There is no pressure on us going over there," Augustana senior Troy Rorer said. "These aren't the type of games anybody outside of our program expects us to win. It will give us a chance to see where we are at right now."