FGCU's Chase Fieler (left) and Mike Murray check out Cowboys Stadium during a TV interview Thursday.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Win or lose tonight, some day the players and coaches from Florida Gulf Coast will be able to reflect on what they've been able to accomplish.Quite simply, the Eagles, the No. 15 seed in the South Region, are now the answer to a "Jeopardy" question after becoming the lowest-seeded team to ever advance to a Sweet 16.But now that it's here, Florida Gulf Coast isn't about to pat itself on the back or succumb to nerves.No, when the Eagles take the court against No. 3 seed Florida at 9:57 tonight at Cowboys Stadium, expect to see the same loose but focused team that has become one of the biggest headlines in sports over the past week.
Starting forward and former Parkersburg South standout Chase Fieler has been at the center of this incredible run, converting momentum-swinging dunks and battling it out with the best players Georgetown and San Diego State could throw his way.Yet even in a win as monumental as the one over the No. 2 seed Hoyas last Friday, the most impressive thing the Eagles (26-10) have been able to do is regroup and play well a second time in a win over the No. 7 seed Aztecs on Sunday."We were able to refocus coming off a great upset over a No. 2 seed and that is really hard for a No. 15 seed to do," Fieler said. "I'm sure [San Diego State was] focused but we were able to stay loose, we never got nervous, we played our style of game and really enforced it on the team we played. San Diego State was a great team, we just happened to make a better run and basketball is a game of runs. We had the last one and were able to put the game away."We're just able to stay focused and now we're pushing to get more."It's a remarkable attitude for such an upstart program to carry. After all, FGCU is just in its second year of NCAA tournament eligibility, but Fieler said this kind of coming-out party was going to happen eventually.
"Something we'd talked about was making history, and it was something I wanted to do," Fieler said. "I didn't know if it would be attainable while I was here, I knew eventually with our facility and our school down here that it would grow to be that way - it was going to blow up sometime."Tonight it will be the Gators (28-7) who will have the next opportunity to try and put out the flames before the FGCU wildfire reaches the Elite Eight.Florida is riding high itself after wins over Northwestern State and Minnesota, and Fieler admits the Gators present a whole list of challenges."They're a great team," Fieler said. "They shoot the ball really well, they really get out in transition, they play great defense ... we've just got to keep doing what we're doing. We're going to have to box out and get rebounds, because we're probably going to be undersized again, we've got to push our tempo and our pace and weather their run."Even if the Gators are able to put a stop to the Eagles' run tonight, this group of players, including Fieler, has put the school forever on the map and it's likely that more successful postseason trips will occur down the road.As for Fieler and his roots in the Mountain State, he says he hopes to put attention on his home as well.
"It's been surreal," Fieler said. "It's very humbling to realize all the attention I'm getting from the national media but also from home. It's great for [Parkersburg] and a lot of athletes there are getting more attention, too. The media and the world are starting to realize that there's good talent from there and from all over West Virginia."Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.