Duke women spur tent revival
DURHAM, N.C. -- One of the clearest signs that you're nearing the Duke campus is a large billboard on I-40 touting the men's and women's basketball teams.
And now, thanks to a few inspired students, there is a clear sign that the teams are getting equal billing on the ground.
In anticipation of Sunday's mammoth, sold-out women's matchup -- fourth-ranked North Carolina at undefeated No. 1 Duke (ESPN, 4 p.m. ET) -- the tented city of Krzyzewskiville was invaded by the proud citizens of Goestenkorsopolis, named in honor of women's coach Gail Goestenkors. Although Duke students are known for camping out on the grassy area outside Cameron Indoor Stadium in anticipation of big men's basketball games, it is rare when they endure the outdoors before a women's game.
The construction of Goestenkorsopolis was the brainchild of junior Elizabeth Rudisill, according to tentmate James Carter.
"She asked me after the last men's game whether I'd want to tent for this game," Carter explained. "I said 'yes' without hesitating."
And if Carter's dedication isn't already evident -- he has been living in a tent since Sunday, braving subfreezing temperatures -- there's this: He doesn't need tickets. He's not doing this for a better seat; he's a member of the pep band.
"I may have missed two or three women's games in my years here," Carter added. "I have a lot of love for the women's team, and I don't think they always get the respect they deserve."
In what is truly a grassroots movement, members of Carter's and Rudisill's tent began camping outside Cameron Indoor on Sunday, both to support the Duke women and in hopes of securing a spot in the student section against North Carolina. Duke students were actually turned away on Jan. 13 for the Blue Devils' win over then-No. 1 Maryland because the seats filled up quickly.
As word quickly spread around campus, other tents began to pop up. And though it's a long way from the reported 1,200 students who once populated Krzyzewskiville, by Thursday afternoon, 44 students in four tents called Goestenkorsopolis home.
The reaction to the tents has been mixed -- "Initially, I think people thought we were crazy," Carter admitted -- but as the buzz around the game grew, so did support for the tented city.
In fact, senior Kaylene Lewek found out about the movement from one of her professors, then quickly ran over to sign up. "I'm a big fan of women's basketball," she said.
Lewek, in fact, is an equal-opportunity camper; she was in tent No. 1 for the men's games, as well. And though rotating shifts make sure the students don't actually have to forgo running water, restrooms and the like, Lewek has picked up plenty in her four years of tenting.
"You learn how to dress -- warmly. And you learn to strategically place the tent," she said. "A lot of people think tent No. 1 should be here [indicating the front, right-hand corner of Goestenkorsopolis]. But you have to be aware of where the rain drains if you want to stay dry throughout the night."
Goestenkors, who can see the tents from her office window, appreciates the dedication.
"It makes me feel really good. I think the students have been the best this year that they've ever been," said Goestenkors, whose team can cap a perfect 29-0 regular season with a win Sunday. "They are really into the women's basketball program, and they've been so supportive. This is just another great step in our progression in having the same sort of support that our men do. Obviously we're still a long ways away, but it's the next, right step."
For a school accustomed to hoops success, it's not surprising that the Duke community would embrace a winner. Cameron Indoor sold out for the Blue Devils' game against defending champ Maryland and is already sold out for Sunday's game.
"It's definitely exciting. With the men's team not up to par, and the women's team doing extraordinarily well, this game is at the top of most people's lists of things to do this weekend," said freshman baseball player Jonathan Foreman.
The students' dedication isn't lost on the team. A number of players already had stopped by to thank the campers, according to Lewek and Carter.
"It's awesome," sophomore guard Abby Waner said. "I've said this a few times this year, but it is an example of how the women's game is growing. I think that people here are starting to appreciate what we can do and the work that we put into it. People like to support winning teams, and so far we've doing a pretty good job of that."
Added Lindsey Harding, Duke's senior point guard and a national player of the year front-runner: "First off, that [the tent] just shows how far women's basketball at Duke University has come. I remember being here my freshman year and we didn't have one sold-out game. Now there's been a few. It shows how much respect and how far we've come, and I love seeing them out there."
With rain expected in Durham on Friday night, the dedication of Goestenkorsopolis' residents will be tested. But none of the campers seemed scared of a little inclement weather.
"We'll be fine," Carter said. "It's a small sacrifice to make for the team."
They don't call them Cameron Crazies for nothing.
Lauren Reynolds is the editor of ESPNU.com. She can be reached at Lauren.K.Reynolds@espn3.com.