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‘This gives us hope’: Eastern Washington University faculty, fans react to making NCAA Tournament

The EWU basketball team clinched their third appearance in school history and will face Kansas University on Saturday, March 20.
Credit: KREM
EWU fan and former basketball administrative assistant Travis Naught

CHENEY, Wash. — March Madness is all about the Cinderella story. Each game played is win-or-go-home, and teams pull off upsets that shock the sports world.

This year, Eastern Washington University has a chance to make some waves in the tournament.

“I’m not going to lie, I shed a tear,” EWU fan Travis Naught said when asked what it was like seeing his team punch their ticket to the tournament.

For only the third time in school history, they’ll be playing in the NCAA Tournament.

“Eastern is like a family to a lot of people, but Eastern is my family,” Naught explained.

Naught worked with the basketball team for 10 years from 2001 until 2011. In that time, he spent nearly 70 hours a week on campus.

Among his accomplishments on campus, Naught got his undergraduate degree from the university and spent six years as the administrative assistant for the men’s basketball squad.

“So ten years after that, I haven’t lost any of my love for the Eagles," Naught said.

Playing in the tournament means so much more than basketball. It’s an opportunity to shine the school in a national spotlight after a year of difficulties due to the pandemic.

Nick Jackson is a professor at Eastern Washington. He also happens to be an alum of Kansas University, the school they’re facing this Saturday.

“I’ve been real careful about who I’ve told who I’m rooting for, so I’ve got to be very careful on who I share that information with,” Jackson joked.

While he’s unsure of who he should pledge his allegiance to in the game, he’s grateful for what this could mean for the future.

“For Eastern, all of these universities are suffering now because enrollment declines, because of people not knowing whether they want to go to college and not be there face-to-face,” explained Jackson. “This gives us hope.”

The Eagles will be the underdog during their matchup with the Jayhawks. Kansas is the 3-seed and Eastern sits at 14.

Regardless of the outcome - making the tournament is something to celebrate.

“There’s a lot of noise outside, don’t worry about any of that noise,” said Naught. “Take care of your own business and maybe you’ll get lucky.”