Weber State fans miss Ogden but have high hopes for Big Sky tournament in Reno

Thursday , March 10, 2016 - 7:17 PM

BRETT HEIN, Standard-Examiner Staff

RENO, Nev. — It’s not the Dee Events Center, but Weber State basketball fans in Reno still have high hopes for the Big Sky Conference’s new neutral-site basketball tournament at the Reno Events Center.

Both the men’s and women’s tournaments are in Reno, Nevada for the first of a three-year contract, pacing the event in the middle of “The Biggest Little City in the World.”

Paul and Terry Kriekard made the trip from Ogden on Wednesday and said, despite first-place Weber State not hosting the tournament like it would have in years past, the Reno Events Center has its positives.

“I like the Dee Events Center better,” Terry Kriekard said, “but, it's big enough that you aren't as close. Here, you are nice and close and can see all the action.”

The Kriekards got into town in time to see the women’s team lose its quarterfinal heartbreaker Wednesday night.

“People are just really friendly, the people hosting it and everyone in the arena. We're having a good time,” Paul Kriekard said.

Ken Richey and his son, Joseph, left Ogden at 3 a.m. Thursday to reach Reno in time to see the men’s team grab its close quarterfinal win over Portland State. They took turns driving and sleeping to reach Reno.

Ken Richey said the location in Reno ensures the tournament will always be within driving distance. “There's definitely a geographic distance you are comfortable going,” he said, noting that if the tournament were in a far-flung place like North Dakota, he wouldn’t go.

He said they would stay through the title games Saturday regardless of outcomes, a sentiment Ogden resident Jared Van Orden echoed.

“If this was in Ogden, I wouldn't have stayed to watch these other games,” Van Orden said after the Weber State men’s game concluded in the early afternoon Thursday. “But when it's here, I'm here, so I'm going to stay and watch the games.”

Van Orden drove down with Sean Lewis, an urban planner from Ogden, and their group of friends hopes to see the tournament stay in Reno.

“Hopefully we'll make this an annual tradition,” Lewis said. “We look forward to coming every year.”

The possibility of having an annual Big Sky tournament tradition is made possible by the neutral-site setup, he said.

“Before, when you weren't sure where the tournament would be until two days before, it made it really hard to say, 'Hey, I'm going to take these three days off and get a hotel' and make those arrangements,” Lewis said. “We've been planning this trip for several months. That made it really easy to find hotels and make the trip.”

Van Orden, who walked on the Weber State men’s team during the 2001-02 season, liked the competitive aspects of the new format.

“Everyone gets a better opportunity to extend their season, and it's a lot better for fans because you aren't traveling to the home site for the top team,” Van Orden said. “So hopefully there is more parity that way, and hopefully it creates a better atmosphere for the games.”

The friends Lewis and Van Orden both agreed the venue is good and gives the Big Sky an opportunity to create a special event.

“It's a good spot for a neutral location,” Van Orden said. “I just hope they get more locals who will come and support the tournament, as well as more fans who come and make it a tradition.”

Contact reporter Brett Hein at Follow him on Twitter @bhein3.

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