- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

ON THE ROAD FROM INDIANAPOLIS — The George Mason University students who made the 600-mile bus ride to Indianapolis to root on the Patriots in the Final Four headed back to Fairfax yesterday, reluctantly preparing for classes and still savoring their team’s Cinderella season.

“I’m ready to stay on the trip,” said Michelle Torok, a GMU junior who was studying for her management midterm on one of the buses. “Even though we didn’t make it all the way, we’re still celebrating because we made it to the Final Four. … The whole trip has been an experience I’m really glad I went on and won’t ever forget.”

Students, faculty and fans lumbered out of the Sheraton Hotel at Keystone Crossing in Indianapolis at about 8:15 a.m. yesterday and onto seven large, school-sponsored buses. The weary students climbed on board still sporting plenty of Mason gear, and most of them immediately fell asleep.

“Goodnight, everybody,” freshman Lee Warner said. “I am not waking up on this trip.”

While the road trip to Indianapolis featured boisterous school chants and rolling dance parties, the homecoming trip was a bit more subdued and far more studious.

Biology and business books replaced card games and karaoke as the next day’s classes loomed large. Some students readied for upcoming midterms, others simply caught up on classes they missed while on the Midwest sojourn.

“I had to skip some classes [to go on the trip], and I only have one or two classes tomorrow,” freshman Michelle Gininger said. “But I’m only going to one.”

The Final Four weekend served as an excuse to party for some and as a rite of passage for others. Miss Gininger, 18, said the best part of the trip was “being crazy and alone and independent in Indianapolis.”

Freshman Greg Thompson said the trip provided him with a chance to meet new people and a chance for the Mason campus to unite under the banner of its basketball team’s unexpected success.

“It’s been the best experience I’ve had in college so far,” said Mr. Thompson, clearly awed by the passionate support of the Final Four teams. “Being around all these crazy fans has been the best part — there’s some weird people here.”

After the Patriots lost to the Florida Gators in Saturday night’s tournament semifinal, some students held on to their tickets to see Monday’s championship game, while others sold theirs for a nice profit.

Those who did attend Florida’s 73-57 drubbing of the University of California at Los Angeles in the title game shouted out George Mason cheers that echoed around the green-and-gold Mason student sections in the RCA Dome.

“The basketball aspect [of the trip] was great. I loved it,” senior Carrie Flowers said. “One of my favorite parts was when we were cheering for Mason, and we weren’t even playing.”

Sophomore Christina Hudson, the daughter of a diplomat who has lived around the world, said the trip provided her with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“It’s definitely the first time I’ve ever done something like this,” Miss Hudson said. “It’s one of those stories I’m gonna be telling my grandkids — I was at the NCAA Final Four.”

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