Portland Pilots head to LA for first ‘dance’ since 1997

Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 6:25 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - While the Ducks and Beavers aren’t in the Big Dance, there are three northwest schools in the field of 68 for the women – the Washington State Cougars, Gonzaga Bulldogs and Portland Pilots.

The University of Portland, West Coast Conference champs, have lift off to the Big Dance as the women of UP are on their way to LA.

Pilots guard, sophomore Emme Shearer, said their small school has made for a close-knit community.

“It’s super exciting, only 64 teams get this opportunity and it’s my first time in three years doing it,” Shearer said. “We’ve got a lot of people behind us here and it’s great to just continue to grow our fan base.”

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This may be their second time in four years as WCC tournament champs under head coach Michael Meek, but it’s the first time they’ll compete in the NCAA Tournament since before any of these women were born. The Pilots program punched four straight tickets to the Big Dance from 1994 to 1997.

UP earned their way to March Madness in 2020, but COVID-19 shut it all down before any tournament games were played.

“A lot of the girls who were on that team, I was fortunate enough to play in my freshman and sophomore years, so it’s kind of going down and playing for them and knowing that they didn’t get to experience this and just to represent them as well and what that 2020 team could have done in the tournament had it not been taken away,” Shearer said.

The queens from up on the bluff are gearing up for Saturday’s first round matchup with Oklahoma from Historic Pauley Pavilion on the campus of UCLA.

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Pilots guard, sophomore Maisie Burnham said her team is going to paly as hard as they can, despite facing the fifth-seeded Sooners as a 12-seed team.

“This is a one-time opportunity, and we are going to take advantage of it,” Burnham said. “We didn’t come into March Madness just to be there. We want to win and make a mark and make some runs and so we ain’t got nothing to lose, so we are going to just go out there and have fun.”

The Pilots hope to not return home until advancing to the Sweet 16, because any win would be the first in program history.