WALLA WALLA — Basketball has always been big in the Ferenz household.
Michelle is the head coach at Whitman College, and her husband, Chris, is a boys assistant coach at Walla Walla High School. They are both former collegiate players, and their son Rob played hoops at Wa-Hi and twin daughters MiKayla and Kate were juniors on this year’s Blue Devils girls basketball team.
So March Madness has always had a special feel to it. But this year’s March Madness is madder than ever, you might say.
No time for brackets this year. And the family’s focus will be on Stevens Point, Wis., where Michelle’s Whitman team is in hot pursuit of the school’s first NCAA Division III national championship.
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Whitman’s women’s basketball team qualified for the Division III Final Four last weekend at Sherwood Center with a 76-60 victory over previously unbeaten Thomas More College in a sectional championship game.
That victory sends Whitman (30-1) against Wisconsin-Whitewater (26-4) Friday afternoon at 5 p.m. in Stevens Point in the second of two national semifinal games. FDU-Fordham (31-0) faces Tufts University (30-1) in the earlier game at 3 p.m.
The winners meet Saturday at 5 p.m. to decide this year’s NCAA Division III national champion. Friday’s losers face off Saturday at 3 p.m. to decide third place.
“This is all very special, very exciting,” Michelle Ferenz said. “Whatever happens in the next few days, it’s going to be a neat experience.”
Whitman athletic director Dean Snider anticipates a good showing of fan support in Stevens Point this weekend.
“I’m sure a lot of parents will be there,” Snider said. “I know of some booster club members who are going, plus some faculty will be there.”
For those unable to attend the games, they will be streamed live on NCAA.com and can be accessed via the Whitman College Athletics website.
For Snider, this week has been something of a breather compared to back-to-back weeks of hosting tournament play.
“This one will be a real joy just to go and participate,” he said. “Where the last two weeks we were catering to people’s needs, we will have people catering to us this time. It will be more relaxed and enjoyable from our perspective.”
But not necessarily from Michelle Ferenz’s perspective.
“We know that win or lose, we are going to be playing Saturday night for the first time in a few weeks,” she said. “We have game films of all three teams, but our focus is completely on Whitewater right now.
“They are a very good team only a couple of hours from home playing in a gym they are familiar with. That is the reality.”