Following a red-eye flight that eventually arrived at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport early Wednesday morning and a short ride to the rental car agency to get my wheels for the week, I was off to Kalamazoo, Michigan - home of the 2002 Super Nationals (a.k.a. Super Nats at the Zoo). This was my first trip to the most heralded of all junior tournaments in the United States. Stowe Stadium, on the campus of Kalamazoo College, was the birthplace of legends such as McEnroe, Connors, Ashe and Laver.
Months of recruiting and evaluating boiled down to this main event as I joined collegiate coaches from all over the country. It was time to grind through the humidity for ten days of points, games and matches in search of the true, future Broncos.
The drive from Chi town to Kalamazoo was to be about 2-2 ½ hours. Following a short visit with a former intern (and SCU Women's Soccer alumnus, Kat Celio), as well as a home visit with a potential Bronco, I was bound for Michigan. Before hitting the highway, I grabbed a few necessities from the local supermarket and was wished "good luck" by a cashier who informed me that getting through Indiana in mid-afternoon could take forever. Well, I had to get there somehow and whether the trip was going to include good or bad commuter luck, I at least had some tunes to keep me company. Today's jukebox selections included hip-hop beats from Mace and Digital Underground, a little bit of country by Tim McGraw and a new favorite from the alternative/popish category, Pete Yorn. First stop, Ogden Dunes, Indiana.
My trip on Interstate 94 was rather interesting as I came to know a few things about the Midwest. First, your car better have a functional air conditioning system. Second, the majority of "big rigs" traveling in this country must originate in Chicago, as there seemed to be a never-ending convoy of eighteen-wheelers from the moment I merged onto the freeway. Third, covered overpasses inhabited by restaurants like the Cracker Barrel (a Sean Burns' favorite), Waffle House and Dairy Queen can definitely make the mouth salivate and force cars to make a quick drive-by for a snack. Fourth, trees, grass and water sure make a long journey seem short.
I arrived at the home of Bob & Bobbi Nelson (parents of Lars Nelson, former #1 Bronco tennis player and 2000 graduate) as this was going to be a good resting place before heading to the Zoo. The Nelson home, built by B&B back in the day, sits on a hill overlooking a sandy beach along Lake Michigan, as well as the Chicago skyline. Following a great dinner and evening of catch-up conversation with the Nelsons, it was off to bed for some rest. A coaches' open house of sorts was on tap for the following day at the Zoo that would give me the opportunity to meet and speak with many potential Broncos before the tournament began.
Life in the Midwest was simple and real - pretty much a "what you see is what you get" type thing. Very comfortable and peaceful, not to mention a bit different from the sunshine and beaches of California. Middle America was a breath of fresh air...even if the air was rather thick and made you sweat profusely for hours upon hours.
In the next edition: The Main Event - Postcards from the Courts