By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
Three games in three nights. Tipoffs after 9 p.m. The grind of a Big East Conference Tournament.
Such is the life for a group of college cheerleaders from sleepy Cincinnati, whose Bearcats made a slightly surprising run to the tournament quarterfinals and almost advanced to the semis under the bright lights of Manhattan's Madison Square Garden.
The league is known as the most physical in the country, and playing on back-to-back-back nights takes its tolls, physical and spiritual, on the players.
But what about the cheerleaders? This ain't exactly a picnic for them either.
Or is it?
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"The fatigue factor for some of us was in the sightseeing," said UC Cheerleading Coach Tabby Fagan, once a cheerleader herself, performing liberties, elevators and heel stretches on the baselines of Bearcats' games in the 1990s.
Fagan and her team took in some sights early in the week, even snapping pictures of them performing a liberty in front of the Statue of Liberty, clearly named after the popular cheerleading stunt. They hit Ellis Island and enjoyed some other cultural and visual splendor available only in the greatest city in the world.
Fagan said Friday morning, before the group boarded a bus back to Cincinnati 11 hours away, that the team stayed in Maspeth for the week, so returning to the hotel at 12:30 a.m. each night meant only one thing: bedtime.
"We weren't in the city, so no one was dying to go out and wander around," she said. "If we had the 2 o'clock game or something, they would have come back to the hotel itching to go out and do something, but there was no nightlife for us."
Tuesday, the entire group of 12 went into the city early to tour around before Cincinnati's first game. The next day it was just eight, and Thursday, only four came in early.
"Exams are next week, so a lot of them stayed behind to work on papers and get ready for tests," said the married mother of two girls.
Fagan added that she's got plenty of school spirit -- how 'bout you? -- but realistically, she and the others didn't expect to enjoy such a long stay in the city that never sleeps.
"We figured we'd lose our first game, the way they'd been playing at the end of the season," she said. "But then they won, and then they beat Louisville the second night and they really had some fire in their eyes. Now all of a sudden we're starting to think we might have a chance in this thing."
And then heartbreak was delivered in the form of a banked-in, buzzer-beating, three-pointer late Thursday night, sending West Virginia on to the semis, and Cincinnati packing its bags.
"There wasn't much fatigue physically on our kids," Fagan said. "They're young; they're in shape. But emotionally it was draining, because at one point we started to think we might do this."