Hearts beat as one to rhythm of Crusaders

March 17, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

The Baltimore chapter of the Valparaiso University Guild met Sunday at 2 p.m. at the First Lutheran Church in Ellicott City.

"Maybe they were just there having a prayer meeting," Laura Reiners was saying yesterday. "Maybe that's what it took."

Reiners, Valpo '92, is the daughter of Carol Dausch, Valpo '63. She still can't believe that her mom missed their alma mater's shining moment.

When the Valpo-Florida State game began at 2: 20, approximately 25 area alumni were inside the church, discussing fund-raising plans for the school.

"I guess a bunch of ladies, no one thought to bring a TV," Dausch said, chuckling. "And we were all dying."

Dausch said she listened to the overtime on her car radio driving home to Towson. She was so excited, she wanted to start beeping her horn when the game ended.

Valpo, little Valpo, had reached the Sweet 16.

Valpo, the No. 13 seed from the Mid-Continent Conference.

Valpo, the liberal arts school with an enrollment of 3,600.

Valpo, tucked away in northwest Indiana, about halfway between Chicago and South Bend on the Indiana Toll Road.

"It's thrilling, just to know a school of that size could accomplish that much," Dausch said.

Indeed, it's a real-life, college version of "Hoosiers," complete with a dynamic father-and-son duo, the coach named Homer and the star named Bryce.

If Valparaiso wins its next game against Rhode Island, it could play Indiana big brother Purdue -- enrollment, 35,000 -- for a spot in the Final Four.

"Anything's possible," Dausch said, repeating the mantra of this spectacular NCAA tournament. "If they can beat Ole Miss and Florida State, why, Rhode Island is next in line."

Dausch certainly has the spirit -- an assistant branch manager at the White Marsh library, she went to work yesterday wearing her Valpo sweat shirt.

Her daughter went to Valpo. Her sister and brother-in-law went to Valpo. So did her husband's brother and wife, and several nieces and nephews.

"It seems like it works that way pretty frequently with Valpo," Reiners said. "With lots of families, every relative you ever knew went there."

Valpo, founded in 1859, is the largest Lutheran college in America. U.S. News and World Report frequently ranks the university among the top regional schools in the Midwest.

Dausch, a native of Groton, S.D., said she was drawn partly by the school's Lutheran affiliation. All three of her children attended Baltimore Lutheran. But only Reiners, 28, attended Valpo.

Reiners' sister, Gretchen, 31, went to Loyola.

Her brother, Michael, 29, attended Clemson.

"I went out there in February, and it was 60 below wind-chill," Michael said. "The very next week, I went down to Clemson, and it was 55 degrees."

Indeed, if you're wondering how to pronounce Valparaiso, just rhyme along with the students who joke that their school is located in Valpa-rain-snow, Windy-ana.

Reiners, now living in Northampton, Mass., can rattle off the date of Valpo's first victory over Notre Dame -- "Dec. 17, 1988, I will never forget it."

She'll also remember her house getting painted during Valpo's dramatic first-round victory over Mississippi, and telling the painter she could not check his work.

"I was like, 'No, I can't leave,' " she said. "He watched very patiently with me as I was screaming and jumping up and down."

Then she called Michael.

"He didn't think Valpo belonged in the tournament," she said. "I called to let him know Valpo won. Then they showed the score from the Clemson game. I said, 'Unfortunately, Clemson lost.' "

Clemson, the No. 6 seed from the ACC, fell to Western Michigan.

Valpo, a loser to NAIA Bethel in its season opener, upset Ole Miss on one of the all-time great buzzer-beaters by Bryce Drew.

"I can't believe a team that didn't play anybody all year made it into the tournament," grumbled Michael, the director of design and construction for the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Sure enough, his phone rang again after Valpo's victory over Florida State. He knew it was his sister calling. He instructed his son, Charlie, 5, to pick it up.

Yesterday, Reiners tried contacting him by e-mail.

"Go Crusaders. Beat RI," she wrote.

"I really don't need this first thing in the morning," he replied.

But Michael, like everyone else in America, is rallying behind the underdog. He even wore his Valpo sweat shirt the other day, after Clemson got knocked out.

His mother, Carol, spent yesterday accepting congratulations at the White Marsh library and answering the eternal question, "Where's Valpo?"

"I don't normally come to work dressed in a sweat shirt," she said. "Sometimes, you just have to celebrate."

Pub Date: 3/17/98

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