Outwardly, at least, this looked to be just another Tuesday afternoon at Concordia University. A gentle breeze rolled across the campus, which is nestled in the rolling hills adjacent to the affluent Turtle Rock section of Irvine.
A few students strolled to or from classes at a leisurely pace. Others gathered to watch the women's softball team play a doubleheader against Point Loma.
There were no signs that this was anything but another unhurried day in the life of this small Orange County liberal arts college.
As 5 p.m. approached, however, the gymnasium began to fill with students, staff members and other basketball fans who gathered to watch the Concordia Eagles defend their National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics championship.
And get this, they were there -- some 350 strong -- to watch the game on television. A satellite dish mounted atop the gym's roof brought the game to the fans, courtesy of the College Sports Television network.
For the $1 admission, Eagle fans also got a free bag of popcorn. They would not get their second title.
Mountain State (W.Va.) built a 16-point lead by halftime, got 22 points from Zach Moss and held off Concordia down the stretch for a 74-70 victory in Memorial Auditorium at Kansas City, Mo. It was sweet revenge for Mountain State (37-1), which lost the title game to Concordia, 88-84, in overtime last season.
Nick VanderLaan led Concordia (33-5) with 18 points and 11 rebounds, Chris Victor had 15 points and Jeremy Groth had 14. Groth's three-point jumper near the end would have tied the score, but it missed the mark.
At the final buzzer, the fans stood and cheered. Today, there will be a celebration at 5:30 p.m. in the gym.
"We'll have a rally for the boys, and we'll set up a stage," said Concordia student Joey Cerulle, a senior who organized Tuesday's party and today's ceremony. "Last year, we had the trophy, but we'll still cheer the boys on."
The team's success can be credited to many, including Coach Ken Ammann, a former Stanford player who served for two seasons as an assistant at Azusa Pacific before guiding Concordia to the NAIA title game the last two seasons.
"He's an outstanding coach, a good recruiter," Cerulle said. "It's been probably the biggest thing, when we hired Ken Ammann three years ago."
It remains to be seen whether consecutive trips to the finals does much to distinguish this Concordia from the 10 other schools of the same name spread from Irvine to Minnesota (where there's a Concordia College in Moorhead and a Concordia University in St. Paul) to New York.
"Well, it did a lot for us last year," said Kimmy Miklos, a sophomore softball player. "We did get on the map there a little bit."