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Doug Clark: Just a hunk, a hunk of Bulldog love

Gonzaga University’s return to the Sweet 16 has once again infected the entire region with that March malady known as Zagmania.

Case in point: Molly French, T.J. Hake and Micah Jensen.

These folks have it bad.

Desperate to be in Memphis for Friday’s NCAA basketball showdown between GU and No. 1 seed University of North Carolina, the three pals pulled out their laptops Monday evening and patched together a frugal yet arduous last-minute way to get there.

Here’s the game plan:

Step 1 – They leave Spokane for Portland at 3:30 a.m. Thursday – via rental car.

Step 2 – Fly out of Portland at 11 a.m.

Step 3 – After a layover in Kansas City, Kan., they jet on to Nashville, Tenn., landing sometime around 8 p.m. – Central time, that is.

Step 4 – No room to shop for rhinestone shirts or check out the Grand Ole Opry. Our heroes must hop in another rental car and motor the final 200 miles to Memphis.

Trip time estimate: 18 hours.

Total cost: About 600 bucks apiece, including hotel rooms.

What a bargain.

Success, of course, depends on a smooth, uninterrupted flow, which is not to be confused with promises made in a Flomax commercial.

This entire travel scheme can be derailed by a host of dangers, such as: flat tires, transmission failure, ticket-happy traffic cops, airport delays …

Plus there are other built-in problems. Blowing the budget on Elvis memorabilia during their tour of Graceland, say.

“We’re definitely gonna be scoping it out,” said Hake on the group’s plan to visit the Home of the King.

All in all, “we have a very slim margin for error,” agreed French, who added that she has no worries “as long as we can make a Starbucks run.”

Before going any further, let’s introduce our players:

•French, 30, is a major accounts executive for XO Communications.

•Hake, 29, is an account manager for Verizon Wireless. (Hake is also French’s boyfriend.)

•Jensen, 34, is a project manager for Jensen Distribution Services.

She is a GU alumna, class of ’96, too. This made Jensen key in scoring tickets to the South Regional semifinals through her alma mater’s athletic department.

Jensen said the tickets cost $159 each and are good for three games:

Syracuse vs. Oklahoma, Gonzaga vs. North Carolina and …

Oh, do we dare jump ahead of ourselves?

Do we dare even consider the remote possibility of the Zags drubbing the Tar Heels and, gasp, moving on?

Jensen doesn’t mind.

“I do think it can happen,” she said. “I think we have to have a really good game and …”

Hake, too, is a believer.

“If Gonzaga’s outside shot is on, they have a really good chance,” he said.

Aren’t GU fans cute?

“It’s kind of hard to live here and not be a fan,” said French, who attended the University of Idaho.

And so I wish our travelers well. Even those who don’t appreciate basketball should appreciate their youthful pioneer spirit.

“When are you going to see this again?” said Hake, who turns 30 on Saturday. “What are the chances?”

Well, actually the odds of this happening again aren’t too bad. This is the Zags’ fifth Sweet 16 trip in the past 11 years, after all.

But I do see Hake’s point. This is one of those rare opportunities that should be groped with gusto.

Plus, there is good news for this tournament-traveling trio.

Our three Zagnuts will return to Spokane on Monday via airplane only.

No rental cars. No matter what happens on the basketball court, this should shave a few points off the Misery Index.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at dougc@spokesman.com.


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