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Gonzaga fans endure dangerous roads to reach Final Four destination

UPDATED: Fri., March 31, 2017, 10:26 p.m.

Gonzaga fans had to make their way through treacherous roads to reach the Final Four at the University of Phoenix Stadium. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga fans had to make their way through treacherous roads to reach the Final Four at the University of Phoenix Stadium. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Just south of Downey, Idaho, a group of Gonzaga students traveling to Phoenix to watch the Bulldogs in the Final Four hit a stretch of black ice on the road at 4 a.m. Friday.

The visibility was low with rain pouring and fog enveloping the night sky.

Their car spun out and darted off the road into a snow-filled ditch. The airbags were deployed.

The group, comprising of sophomores Julia Camara and Nick Marchesano, along with two other friends, stood outside their car in a daze. Not only was their trip to Phoenix halted, their lives were in danger.

Marchesano was in the backseat when the car started to spin out.

“Honestly, I woke up right before it happened,” Marchesano said. “It happened so quick that I couldn’t really react.”

The car wasn’t totaled, but two flat tires prevented any further driving. The group was told that if it wasn’t for the snow in the ditch, the car would have rolled and the travelers would have been at risk of sustaining serious injuries.

“We’re lucky for that,” Marschesano said.

Even after all that, the crew was still on its way to the Final Four. Two of the inhabitants hitched rides to the Salt Lake City airport to hop on a flight to Phoenix. The two others found rides after posting on a Facebook group with Gonzaga students heading to the Final Four.

“It was really great to have everyone reaching out to us, especially after the Facebook post,” Camara said.

The group was traveling to Phoenix with one other car, consisting of sophomores Quinn Brady, Andrew Parada, Luis Peraza, Justin Magbutay and Jason Conci, which pulled over and helped the group find ways to get to Phoenix.

The snowy weather put a wrench in many Zags fans drive to Phoenix. Heavy snowfall in Northern Utah and Nevada on Thursday night and Friday morning caused some to stop overnight to let the weather pass.

Gonzaga senior Caleb Lance and three friends drove nonstop from Spokane to Phoenix, leaving Thursday afternoon and arriving Friday morning. Lance drew the short straw and drove the group’s back Honda Pilot through a snowstorm in Northern Nevada at 1 a.m.

“I couldn’t see any of the lines in the road and only the other side of the road,” Lance said. “We were going about 35 miles per hour until I could see the road again.

“It was a little treacherous. I was on edge.”

Lance said he volunteered for the shift because he’s the best driver, eliciting a laugh from his travel mates.

Seniors Kelli Wrolstad and Erin Donley planned on driving to Portland on Thursday and flying out of the Rose City to Phoenix on Friday morning. That had to change once their friend Shelby Wells was awarded a trip to Phoenix for the Final Four from the Children’s Miracle Network.

The two were happy for their friend, but there was a catch.

“We lost our ride and our place to stay,” said Donley, who said they were planning to drive with and stay with Wells in Portland.

The two booked a last-second Greyhound bus from Spokane to Portland and booked a hotel room in Portland.

Why make last-second plans and endure long hours of traveling through poor weather to attend the Final Four?

“Maybe if it wasn’t senior year and the Zags first time, I wouldn’t go,” Wrolstad said. “This seriously is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I had to just do it. I couldn’t say I didn’t go to the Final Four.”

Marchesano repeated her sentiment.

“Can’t pass it up,” he said.

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