Brian Golden

Brian Golden/Valley Press

You never know who you might meet on a plane.

Take the two gentlemen traveling from Southern California to Sioux City, Iowa, via Chicago the other day.

They boarded the flight as businessmen commuting home.

They deplaned as newly deputized fans of University of Antelope Valley women’s basketball.

“They sat next to me all the way to Sioux City,” UAV women’s coach Deon Price reported. “We talked basketball all the way (for more than four hours).

“When we landed, they promised to come to our game and root for us. And they did.”

So that made a total of five UAV fans in Tyson Events Center, the sometimes-homecourt of Morningside College based in Sioux City.

“Our host family was there, and (UAV point guard) Alyssa Gonzalez’s mother made the trip from Southern California,” reported Ambassador Price. “The rest was all Morningside.”

It made the Lady Pioneers’ 100-93 victory all that much more satisfying.

And, historic.

It was UAV’s first victory in the NAIA Division II National Championship Tournament.

It was the first NAIA Nationals tournament victory by any California Pacific Conference school since 2006.

UAV (26-5) matched the CalPac single season wins record set by Menlo College in 2013.

And the kids from Division Street became the first Division II women’s team to score 100 points in a tournament game.

But here’s the best part:

Their Sweet 16 opponent Friday at 11:45 a.m.?

The same Oregon Tech team they beat 90-80 on the Hustlin’ Owls home court in Klamath Falls back in December.

Figure on any Pioneer player mentioning that game running laps around Tyson Event Center.

If not Sioux Falls itself.

“What happened in that game has no bearing on this game,” insisted Price. “This game is in March, in Sioux City at the Tournament, to determine who advances to the Elite Eight.

“We have to come prepared to play our very best game of the season.”

One of Price’s gifts at AV High School and now three miles west on Lancaster BLVD is a laser-like ability to focus his team on the next game.

The next possession. The next quarter. The next half.

The leader of these Pioneer women, Samantha Earl, promised it would be different in this second straight trip to the national tournament.

The senior from Clovis scored a career-high 32 points Wednesday to walk the walk even better than she talked the talk.

“Sammy set the tone the way you would expect a leader to,” Price said. “Last year was our first time playing in this kind of setting, in this part of the country. You can see what a totally different team we are this year.”

In the euphoria of the epic comeback to beat Embry-Riddle to successfully defend their conference title, some Lady Pioneers decided to give victory shower to Price with the Gatorade bucket — right on the hardwood.

When Earl and her heavily bandaged hyperextended knee went skidding by atop the water, disaster portended.

No worries.

Who hasn’t hydroplaned on the 14 these last few weeks?

The Valley’s newest goodwill ambassadors are four wins away from playing for the NAIA Division II National Championship.

The bandwagon is boarding right now.

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