How do you get 50 people into a mid-sized split-ranch home in Champaign, Ill.?
Offer a great meal of lasagna, a creamed chicken-pasta dish and world-class brownies for desert.
That's what the Siena women's basketball team, along with family members and friends, feasted on Saturday night at the Champaign home of the Lindemann family whose daughter, Allie, is a Saints' senior.
Siena is is here to take on Illinois in a 4 p.m. contest later today (Sunday). Your blogger is along, primarily in hopes of witnessing Siena coach Gina Castelli's 300th career victory at the school. Castelli is entering her 20th season as the program's head coach, but prefers much more just to get a victory today without worrying about her career victory total.
The contest and its surroundings is typical of of any road trip taken by a college team and your blogger's intent, by writing about it, is to highlight a little what transpires on trips of this kind.
Saturday night's get-together at the Lindemann home was one of the things programs do for away-from-home players. Teams traditionally try to get a non-conference home game in the home area of its players, and this weekend's is Allie Lindemann's trip.
That was clearly evident by the wide smile on the face of the Saints' guard for most of the trip, and the hugs and warm words she shared with family members and some local friends at Saturday night's dinner ... even when the slender Lindemann was teased about a large, framed photo on her family home's wall that showed her in a muscles-flexing pose.
Lindemann, a local newspaper's girls' Player of the Year for her senior season at Champaign Central High School, grew up watching the Illinois women's team play in the 16,000-seat Assembly Hall. Surprisingly, though, Siena's full practice Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning walk-through were the first times Lindemann ever played on that court.
She said that she often came to the Illinois campus for pick-up games, but those were always held at the school's facility that hosts full and separate practice courts for both the men's and women's teams.
It's a sign of the difference between Siena's mid-major level and Illinois' high-major status.
So, too, is Illinois' mode of transportation. The Illini played a game Friday evening at Temple, about 46 hours prior to today's tip-off with the Saints. But, rather than have to deal with the travel difficulties getting into the small Champaign airport via commercial airlines, Illinois got in via a charter flight, something it has for all its travel.
Siena, as do all MAAC programs, travels exclusively commercially. On this trip, the Saints flew Friday night into Chicago and, then, had a two-hour bus ride after that to get here.
Lindemann was featured in the game preview published in Sunday's edition of the Champaign News-Gazette, which included a picture of her from her high school days, a posed shot holding a basketball with her dad, Mike, looking on.
And, of course, the photo caption had her school's name spelled incorrectly ... "Sienna," rather than Siena.
That will become a portion of Castelli's pre-game talk to her team. So, too, will be the newspaper's prediction that "Illinois will steadily pull away for a fairly comfortable win," and the paper's assessment that "(Siena) isn't the most daunting task on the schedule."
A little disrespect always provides a little extra motivation.
So, too, should be a Siena fan section that might rival Illinois.
Lindemann's dad, Mike, is currently an assistant coach at Parkland College, a junior college located in Champaign. Prior to that he was the head coach of the Champaign Central girls' team for several years.
Lindemann said many of his former high school players, current players at Parkland and youngsters from a youth program in which he is involved, are expected to attend today's game.
Combine that with several dozen Lindemann family members and friends as well as several other of the team's parents who have traveled here and it should make for some strong crowd support for the Saints today.