Shocker fans go the distance

Evan Pflugradt

Dayton, Ohio — Gathered in the living room, there were all kinds of suspicions. Would the 24-8 regular-season Missouri Valley champions, Wichita State be seeded in the NCAA Tournament? Would they have a destination? Would All-American seniors Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet play in the national spotlight again? But the biggest question for Wichita State alumni, Doug Lane, was deciding where his family would be.

On Sunday, Wichita State was selected a No. 11 seed in the South region of the NCAA Tournament, well, kind of. Before taking on Arizona in Providence, Rhode Island, on Thursday, the Shockers would have to get past Vanderbilt in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio.

Destinations of St. Louis, Missouri, Des Moines, Iowa and Oklahoma City, were a dream for Wichita State fans. But it was Dayton. An 800-mile drive across I-70, approximately 12-hours in the car. The debate was all but a short-one, Lane knew the opportunity for his 14-year-old son Brent to see his favorite player, senior guard Fred VanVleet, was worth every mile.

“We debated it, and ultimately decided we could do Dayton,” Lane said.

Early after the sunrise, Doug, son Brent and wife Rosemary piled into the car, departing from Wichita at 6 a.m. Monday morning.

“Brent is out of school on spring break right now,” Doug said. “I said ‘why not?’”

Doug claims the trip is for his son, but a 38-year history cheering on the Shockers begs to differ.

“I graduated in ‘78 and have been a Shocker fan ever since,” Doug said. “I had tickets when I was a student there, I bought season tickets after I graduated. Now Brent is taking an interest in it, it’s been a lot of fun.”

Crowds of black and yellow are quickly filling the 13,409 seats of the University of Dayton Arena, some making the 12-hour journey, but the Shocker nation of fans extends far beyond the city limits of Wichita.

Jim, Melissa and Blake Jacobs made the journey on Monday, two hours from Decatur, Indiana.

“This is the first time we’ve seen the Shockers this season,” Jim Jacobs said. “We usually catch them when they play Loyola in Chicago during conference-play.”

Jim attended Wichita State for his graduate degree 30 years ago, but the family’s love of the Shockers ties back to a closer family heritage.

In the 800-person city limits of Utica, Indiana, Melissa’s parents live next door to senior guard Ron Baker’s grandparents. Blake sports a No. 31 Wichita State jersey, one Baker himself has signed on the front.

“We’ve known Baker’s family for quite a while, we enjoy following Ron Baker, we enjoy following Wichita State, this has become a family event for us,” Jim said.

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