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Final Four Notebook: McLaughlin's love for the Bison unabated

Former NDSU volleyball standout Lauren McLauhglin is in her fourth year working media for the NCAA at events like the Final Four. (NCAA Photo)1 / 4
Lauren McLaughlin of North Dakota State University stretches in an attempt to control the ball during the Saturday night game against Centenary. Photo by Dave Wallis / The Forum2 / 4
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 478 yards and six touchdowns in a 54-51 loss to the Los Angeles Rams Monday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY Sports 3 / 4
Minnesota State Moorhead men's basketball coach Chad Walthall led his team to an NCAA Division II tournament berth. Dave Wallis / The Forum4 / 4

MINNEAPOLIS -- For some folks, standing beneath the east basket on the court for the NCAA Final Four 90 minutes before tipoff of the national title game would be the sports thrill of a lifetime. For former NDSU volleyball player Lauren McLaughlin, it’s just another day on the job.

Now in her fourth season with the NCAA’s marketing and broadcasting arm, McLaughlin travels to the Final Four and a handful of other national tournaments each year, working with the crush of media that comes from all over the world to cover American college sports.

By Monday, McLaughlin, 30, had been in Minneapolis for nearly two weeks, helping with the 2,400-plus members of the media who receive credentials to cover college basketball’s biggest stage. Originally from suburban Chicago, McLaughlin still recalls the conversation she had with her family as a high schooler when first contacted by the Bison volleyball coaches.

“It was a wild card for me. I always remember yelling to the other room when I got my first email from there,” she said. “I asked, ‘What do you think of North Dakota?’ and my parents yelled, ‘Usually try and fly over it.’”

There were definitely some culture shock moments for McLaughlin, coming from Chicagoland to the Red River Valley, but the community didn’t take long to feel like her home. While admitting she doesn’t miss the Fargo winters, even a dozen years since she first got to campus, McLaughlin is quick to shut down those who question her sanity for making her college home on the wind-swept North Dakota prairie.

“I went on about 18 unofficial visits, looked everywhere. I knew I wanted to be a hitter in college, and I was shorter so that helped. The staff they had at the time was just incredible, and I loved it when I got out there,” she said. “It just felt right. I loved the community and the sports and the town. It was like nothing else, so I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

McLaughlin won a trio of Summit League titles in her four years (2007-10) at NDSU, and made two trips to the NCAA tournament. After earning her Bachelor’s degree in sports management in Fargo, she got a Master’s at Illinois State, and worked in the NBA and in mixed martial arts prior to joining the NCAA.

Her office inside the national governing body’s downtown Indianapolis office is adorned with a Bison flag and other green and gold artifacts -- some brought to her from co-workers who see the Bison at the FCS national championship each year -- but McLaughlin is often on the move, traveling to the NCAA championships for women’s lacrosse, women’s soccer and beach volleyball as well as every round of the men’s basketball tournament each year. She admits one of the challenges of the job is staying neutral and objective when the Bison are playing in an event where she is working -- something McLaughlin did successfully just a few weeks ago.

“I was at the First Four and North Dakota State was there, so that was really hard, but when you’re in the office, the first question for everyone is ‘Where did you go to school?’” she said. “You definitely know where the alliances are in the office. You have to sit on your hands and sit tight at the events.”

Homecoming of sorts for NFL MVP

Watching his alma mater play basketball here this weekend certainly wasn’t the first time Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and reining NFL most valuable player Patrick Mahomes has visited the corner of Chicago Avenue and Sixth Street in downtown Minneapolis. When Patrick was born in September of 1995, his father, Pat, was still working at this site, which was the home of the Metrodome at the time, where the elder Mahomes was a pitcher for the Minnesota Twins.

Fans inside U.S. Bank Stadium gave a loud ovation for Patrick on Saturday, shown with his girlfriend among the red-clad throng of Texas Tech fans. One would think that if he returns here to plan for the Chiefs against the building’s primary tenant, the Minnesota Vikings, the reception will be less friendly.

Learning from the best

Sitting 50 yards or so behind the east basket with his three sons for the title game, Minnesota State Moorhead men’s basketball coach Chad Walthall said the Texas Tech defense in their semifinal win over Michigan State was perhaps the best he’s ever seen in college basketball.

Walthall just finished his ninth season as the Dragons’ head coach, going 19-12.