With football finished for another season, which sporting event are you most looking forward to in the spring?
Keeping my focus on New Orleans
By Mechelle Voepel
The last time the Women's Final Four was in New Orleans, we saw one of the greatest collegiate women's basketball careers culminate in a national championship. That was when UConn's Diana Taurasi and the Huskies won their third consecutive NCAA title in 2004.
The 2012-13 season will end in the Big Easy again. And while Baylor's Brittney Griner can't match Taurasi in NCAA titles, she could lead the Lady Bears to a repeat and win her second. Then Griner is fully expected to be selected first in the WNBA draft by Phoenix, just like Taurasi was in '04.
Can Griner and her Baylor teammates make it to Louisiana, just as they are heavily favored to do? Can they win it all again? Or will they be thwarted by UConn, Notre Dame or Stanford? Or will it be another team? Watching how that plays out is what I most look forward to this spring.
Indianapolis 500 harkens childhood memories
By Graham Hays
The Final Four and the Women's College World Series are No. 1 and No. 1A, but I'll be working at those events. As a fan, it's the Indianapolis 500. I'm not in any way a gearhead and given the timing of super regionals in college softball, I'm often unable to watch the race. But just hearing about it and knowing it's approaching will always be one of my favorite parts of spring, no matter how close to oblivion the race treads.
I spent a good chunk of my childhood in Indianapolis, and the 500 was the biggest thing on the calendar. This was back when the Colts cycled through guys like Jack Trudeau at quarterback, fans of the Pacers were upset the team drafted a scrawny guy named Reggie Miller instead of Steve Alford, and downtown Indianapolis really was Naptown. But for one month each year, it felt like the city was a piece of the global sporting landscape. For weeks on end, the morning paper was full of stories about guys like Mario Andretti, Rick Mears and Al Unser, the kind of giant figures (in a purely metaphorical sense, given their actual size) that the Colts, Pacers and Triple-A Indians never had.
We almost never went to the race -- the drivers cover 500 miles in less time than it took fans to navigate five miles in and around the Speedway on race day. In fact, we almost never watched the race; it was (and may still be) blacked out locally because apparently more than a quarter of a million fans in attendance wasn't enough. That almost made it better because my memories came from radio, announcers around the track handling the call like a relay team with the baton. I'd sit on the porch, listen to the roaring whine of the engines and wait for something to go wrong for Mario or Michael Andretti and wait for a Penske car to cross the line first, presumably as generations of baseball fans listened to Red Barber, Mel Allen and all those great radio voices describe inevitable Yankees championships.
Maybe that's why I still look forward to the race, even if I rarely watch it. The actual passing and pit stops never really mattered. I loved Memorial Day weekend because of what it let me imagine. And I still love remembering that.
Bring on the bounce
By Michelle Smith
It's time to trade the sound of whistles and the smack of helmets and pads with the sounds of squeaking shoes and the ball pounding the hardwood. We are just a few weeks away from the NCAA women's and men's tournaments, and this hoops junkie can't wait.
The college women's season already has held more intrigue than many thought it would because it hasn't been Baylor running away from the pack like many suspected. Top teams have been beating other top teams and the best players have been shining very brightly. As for the men, the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament are quite simply the most fun four-day stretch in sports. So bring it on!
By Jane McManus
Now that football is over, I'll be turning to tennis. It won't be long before the clay season starts and the French Open gives us a new set of headlines. The Australian already provided a few themes for the women's tour -- Sloane Stephens is the Next Big Thing, can Serena Williams continue to be great late into her career, and how long can Victoria Azarenka and LMFAO's Redfoo keep up the Vulcan mind meld that they seem to have going on?
I am all in.
There is time for the NCAA tournament and the NBA season, but before you know it, the red clay of Roland Garros will take center court again. And I will be riveted.
Sucker for the madness
By Melissa Isaacson
With a nod toward Opening Day of the baseball season, it's the NCAA basketball tournament for sure.
I do not pretend to be a rabid college basketball fan. Covering the NBA really does train your eyes for a faster, more athletic brand of basketball that makes it hard to fully appreciate the college version.
But everyone likes the NCAA tourney, and I'm no exception. Nothing can beat one-and-done, the potential for upsets, the fun of watching your bracket implode and, yes, the largely unvarnished emotion of its participants.
Like millions of others, I'm a sucker for it. How can you not be? Even for "One Shining Moment," which I am only slightly embarrassed to say I still sit on the edge of my bed to watch. Every time.
Smelling the Rose
By Sarah Spain
The return of Derrick Rose! It's not exactly a sporting event, but Chicago Bulls fans have been waiting for the day No. 1 returns with the kind of fervor usually reserved for Super Bowl Sunday or the opening days of March Madness.
The Bulls, under Eastern Conference Coach of the Month Tom Thibodeau, have managed a 29-18 record (good for first place in the Central) despite playing without Rose all season as well as nagging injuries to starters Kirk Hinrich, Rip Hamilton and Luol Deng. Only the most diehard superfans believe the Bulls have a chance to best the Heat in a seven-game series, even with Rose, but getting at least to the Eastern Conference Finals would be a victory for what many considered to be a lost season.
When Rose is introduced for the first time since his heartbreaking ACL tear, the roar of the crowd -- both in person and at home -- will be deafening. I can't wait.
Silly question: It's March Madness
By Kate Fagan
Let me think ... yeah, got it: March Madness. And although usually it would be a toss-up between the men's and women's tournaments, this year I'm looking forward to different parts of each.
I can't wait for the first weekend of the men's tournament, because there isn't a better four days in sports than those first two rounds. With the parity in the men's game, I'm predicting many upsets -- perhaps even a No. 16 seed toppling a No. 1. (Although I'm not predicting which top seed goes down, I think we can all agree Syracuse, wherever it is ranked, is early-round fodder.)
With the women's tournament, I think we're going to have an awesome Final Four. Last season it felt like no one, really and truly, had a chance to take down unbeaten Baylor and Brittney Griner. I sense that this year will be a more competitive final weekend, with teams like UConn and Stanford having a legitimate chance at the Bears.
Of course, I'm still predicting a repeat by Baylor -- the game will just be much closer.