ST. JOSEPH, Mo.— It’s a long way from Ashland to St. Joseph, Missouri.
According to the odometer, 755 miles, to be exact. That’s 11 hours and 38 minutes of driving, or a four-hour flight to Kansas City followed by an hour of driving.
The No. 1-ranked Ashland University women’s basketball team triggered those calculations with their scintillating March Madness run. Next, the Eagles will push their most loyal fans even further — and they love it.
AU racked up a pair of victories this week in the NCAA Division II tournament and have qualified for the national championship game on Saturday, April 1 in Dallas.
For Carol Pickens, mother-in-law of Ashland head coach Kari Pickens, following the Eagles with her husband all the way to Missouri was an easy choice.
“With Kari, we’re not going to miss supporting her and the team,” she said.
The Pickens family is far from alone.
Eagle-eyed fans, or just anyone with eyes, really, might have noticed a man with a bright yellow and purple wig in the front row of almost every Ashland University women’s basketball game. That’s Tony Daniel, and he used to be part of a group of similarly wigged AU fans. Over the years, the group gradually thinned out, but Daniel still comes to every game with his wacky hairdo.
“A lot of people, when I don’t wear it, they say ‘Hey, where’s your hair?’ So I try to wear it,” Daniel said.
Ashland fan and alumna John Shultz has gotten into a habit of following the Eagles all around the country, including to their last championship appearance in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in 2018.
He was even in Springfield, Missouri in 2020, when the NCAA tournament was called off due to COVID-19.
“We were there! (We) spent the night, came home,” Shultz said.
Another AU fan that made the journey, Tim Farver, had some simple words for the team before their game against Glenville State on Wednesday night.
“All I’m going to say is go Eagles, we’re proud of you, we’re behind you,” Farver said.
He could be speaking for the entire community, which is basking in the glow of their dynamite team.
Ashland dismissed the University of Texas Tyler 81-72 on Monday night in the Elite Eight, then eliminated defending national champion Glenville State 76-67 in Wednesday night’s Final Four, both games in St. Joseph, Missouri.
That sends the Eagles soaring toward Dallas and a potential date with destiny. Ashland (36-0) will play Minnesota Duluth (32-3) at 3:30 p.m. This will be the Bulldogs first-ever trip to the national finals, while AU has won a pair of national crowns.
That scenario will no doubt send the most die-hard Eagle fans busting into their respective piggy banks and looking at the feasibility of making the journey to the Lone Star State — and they will be glad to do it.