Sioux City's label as "Title Town" for the NAIA national tournaments it hosts results in a festive feast for me in story ideas.
It happens twice per year, first with the volleyball tournament (this week) and in March, when the women's basketball tournament takes over the Tyson Events Center.
A feast? It is in stories. Nowhere does Sioux City shine as much as it does for visitors who come from around the country, if not the globe, to compete and cheer on their young competitors.
I recall interviewing a missionary as he made a 24-hour trek from Africa to Sioux City, charging through the final several hours in a blizzard to watch his daughter play in the women's basketball Final Four.
Last year, I met a man from Norway, who surprised his daughter by "dropping by" the national volleyball tournament as she competed.
I've met singing bus drivers, fans whose vehicles broke down on their way to Northwest Iowa, and a couple of guys who got turned around in Chicago on their way from Milwaukee to Sioux City to watch the Cardinal Stritch women's basketball team. (They later got picked up for speeding, trying to make up for lost time. They did reach Sioux City in time. Whew!)
On Monday, I stepped in to the Tyson Events Center and quickly struck up a conversation with Rachel Andrews, a junior who plays for the Union College Bulldogs in Barbourville, Kentucky. The Louisville, Kentucky, native battled back from two ACL injuries, one in each knee. The injuries, which caused some NCAA Division I programs to shy away from offering a scholarship, haven't kept her from shining at Union, where she was recently been named player of the year in the Appalachian Athletic Conference.
"My freshman season, both of my knees were bad, but they've gotten stronger every year," Andrews told me.
Andrews and her team worked out on Monday morning, then took time for a Special Olympics event at the Tyson Events Center. After lunch, Andrews would join her team in a study session before resting and preparing for the opening banquet at the Sioux City Convention Center on Monday night.
The Bulldogs open the tournament at 9 a.m. Tuesday, playing against Hastings College. I'll be there, notebook in hand, ready to bring Rachel's story -- and more stories throughout the week -- to all our Journal readers.