March Madness is here in downtown Minneapolis. The Big Ten women’s tournament is here for the first time beginning March 1, through the championship game on Sunday, March 5, that will decide the conference automatic NCAA qualifier.
Act I: The players
Former local prep stars Ronnie Porter (Como Park, Wisconsin freshman), Adalia McKenzie (Park Center, Illinois soph), Kendall Coley (St. Louis Park, Nebraska soph), Amaya Battle (Hopkins, Minnesota freshman), Angelina Hammond (Hopkins, Minnesota graduate student), and Niamya Holloway (Eden Prairie, Minnesota freshman) are among the 78 sistahs who will play this week in the annual tourney.
McKenzie is one of five returnees from the 2021-22 Illinois squad that helped the team tie the league’s all-time one-year improvement from one victory a year ago to 10 league wins this season. A starter averaging 14 points a game this season, the 5’10” guard said on playing on the Lynx’s home court, “I’m excited that it is here. It’s always good having family coming to your games.”
The 5’4” Porter has done her job whenever called upon this season, said Wisconsin Coach Marisa Moseley. “She’s continuing to just chip away, and whenever her number’s called she’s ready,” noted the second-year Badgers coach.
Said Porter of why she’s happy to be here, “Just being able to play in front of my hometown and just having that support.”
Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Big Ten’s two youngest squads this season, will play on the tourney’s first day. “We got to be able to execute our game plans” both defensively and offensively, stated Moseley, one of two Black Big Ten HCs.
Wisconsin and Minnesota are the Big Ten’s two youngest squads. The Badgers earned a first-round bye for the first time since the Big Ten tournament began. They will play Purdue on Thursday, at 5:30 pm. The Gophers will play Penn State in the first game òf the tournament, at 1 pm on Wednesday.
Act II: The ancillary events
Several events scheduled to take place during the tournament include Lea B. Olsen, the dean of local Black sports broadcasters, appearing on a Critical Conversations panel on Friday, 3:30 p.m. at the City Center.
“This is a speaker series comprised of engaging conversations on topics that are trendy and relevant to the community and will be held in downtown Minneapolis during tournament week,” said Kaylah Hughes, the conference director of events and operations.
Olsen and former Gopher and high school coach Kiara Buford will be among the clinicians at the Practice with a Purpose Youth Clinic on Thursday morning, 9-10:30 a.m. at the downtown arena.
“I’m super, super excited,” said Olsen.
Act III: The behind-the-scenes organizers
Minnesota Sports and Events (MNSE), a nonprofit group, hosted the 2022 Women’s Final Four and will be in charge of this year’s Big Ten women’s tournament as well, as both league tourneys (men’s and women’s) will be here next year.
“I think fans are going to be pleasantly surprised when they come to Minneapolis,” explained Big Ten Vice President of Women’s Basketball Megan Kahn. “We’re going to put out a really good product and impress our fans…to see really, really good basketball.”
Meet Minneapolis, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, is run by Executive Director Melvin Tennant. He has been the only Black representative on the various local contingents that seek out and bid on major sporting events for the city in recent years. Tennant rarely gets credit for this and regularly assumes a low profile, allowing others to take the spotlight.
“I’m very proud of the organization we have,” said Tennant. “We have a great team and increasingly diverse team, really looking at ways that we can promote the fact that we are a welcoming community for all sorts of events.
“Reflecting back on the events that [Meet] Minneapolis…has been involved in”—including the Super Bowl, two Final Fours, the women’s volleyball championships, and the WNBA All-Star Game, among other large-scale sporting events—Tennant said, “I look at the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game as the beginning of an era to really hold any major event. And each time that we host a major event, we convince future event organizers that we are prepared and that we can do these events successfully.
“It’s been a great run,” concluded Tennant.