The teams have arrived and soon their fans will as well. Stanford, South Carolina, Duke and St. John's all accomplished their NCAA mission to get to Fresno. Valley hotels and restaurants now welcome the surge in business.
The NCAA Fresno Regional offers a chance for Valley fans to fill the seats and support a major event which doesn't involve the Bulldogs.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley is a three-time Olympic gold medalist. She said the WNBA has dramatically improved women's collegiate programs. Staley explained, "There is some great basketball being played by some tremendous women. I think a lot had to do because that dangle of professional women's basketball been put in front of their faces and they've been working on their games. We're more athletic, more skilled because everyone wants to be a part of it."
Fresno hotel rooms were quickly filling up with out of area fans here for the NCAA Regional. Area restaurants will also see a steady stream of new customers over the weekend. Dog House Grill employee Thomas Bertalotto said, "People out of town look for the closest place from where they're at, look across the street and see our restaurant right here."
Stanford is expected to bring the largest contingent since fans in Palo Alto have the shortest distance to travel. But Duke guard Chelsea Gray is single-handedly having a sizeable economic impact. Gray is from Stockton and many of her supporters will make the two-hour drive to Fresno. Gray said, "A lot of family are coming but we know this is a business trip and we have one goal and one goal only. How many people are making the trip from Stockton? It's at least fifty right now."
Chelsea introduced teammates to her favorite West Coast burger spot and contributed to the local economy. "There's no In-N-Out in Durham. We went to In-N-Out last night and took care of that."
The Duke Blue Devils had their fun Thursday night but ran off the burgers on Friday.
The NCAA Fresno Regional tips off Saturday. Duke takes on St. John's at 6pm. Stanford and South Carolina play the second game. The winners meet on Monday for a trip to the NCAA Women's Final Four.