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|| News Item: Posted 2005-04-02

The NCAA Chicago Regional: Anything But a Trip Down Memory Lane...
By Anne Ryan, ZR Images

Photo by Anne Ryan

Photo by Anne Ryan

Arizona's Jawann McClellan sits and cries as Illinois' Dee Brown and the rest of the team celebrate after University of Illinois defeated University of Arizona 90-89 in the NCAA Midwest Regional Championship game at the Allstate Arena.
Growing up in Chicago I was used to the climate of disappointment in local sports teams. Every year we still have so much hope early in the season. At the beginning of every Cubs season we start hearing, "This is the year" only to be subjected to a season of our team dwelling near the bottom of the heap or to come to the brink of a championship and then lose in the end. We savor our rare, actual championships. We've gotten 20 years of mileage out of the 1985 Bears and the Super Bowl Shuffle. You can't say we don't appreciate a winning team here.

Things haven't changed that much for the Cubs or Bears, but luckily in the 1990s Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls changed things enough that the term "Losers" doesn't apply to every team in the state of Illinois anymore.

In college I spent four years as a staff photographer for the "Daily Illini" sitting on the court at Assembly Hall in Champaign photographing coach Lou Henson with his orange blazer and unusual swirly comb-over. We'd pick up a Papa Dell's pizza to eat in the photo office and slice it with a "pica stick" stolen from the paste-up department. I met my husband John Zich there. He was the photo editor of the paper when I was a freshman. He taught me the wonders of developing Tri-X pushed to 3200 ASA in Acufine.

I graduated from the University of Illinois in 1985, a year after the Illini made it to the Rose Bowl only to be slaughtered by UCLA. Being a Chicagoan I should have predicted that outcome of the Rose Bowl, but for some reason we're always surprised. In 1989 the Illini basketball team got our hopes up again, only to be crushed by Michigan in the semifinal round of the Final Four.

Photo by Anne Ryan

Photo by Anne Ryan

Illinois' Deron Williams slam dunks in front of Arizona's Chris Rodgers in the first half as University of Illinois plays University of Arizona in the NCAA Midwest Regional Championship game.
Last Thursday and Saturday I was back to covering Illinois, this time for USA Today, my other alma mater. The photo work area was a bit cramped, but the biggest drawback was that the work area was in a different building. It was across the parking lot from the Allstate Arena, but could be accessed through a long underground tunnel. Photographers and photo messengers could be seen running back and forth in the tunnel all evening. Occasionally we were offered rides in golf carts, but when we were on the tightest deadlines at the end of the games the golf carts were reserved for players and coaches. It was inconvenient, but I've worked in worse conditions. The biggest casualty of the tournament was when AP stringer Brian Kersey's 16-35 mm lens broke off the mount when a player stepped on it.

Photographers agree that the regional went very well overall. I have covered many NCAA regionals all over the country. This one will stand out in my mind as one of the best. The Illini treated us to one of the best basketball games I've ever seen, coming back from a 15 point deficit in the last few minutes to tie the regional final game against Arizona. They won a hair-raising overtime period by one point. We are going to the Final Four!

Here we Illinoisans are again on the brink of a national championship. But please don't say "This is the year." Let's just wait and see what happens this time. Go Illini!

(Anne Ryan is a partner with her husband in ZR Images based in Chicago. She formerly worked as a staff photographer with USA Today.)

Related Links:
Ryan's member page

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