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Photographer rides along with SHS girls

11:55 a.m. - Superior High School junior varsity coach Kristen Lehman, left, braids the hair of Raya Schulz, the daughter of head coach Dan Schulz, on the bus trip to Marshfield. For more photos of the trip check the gallery at www.superiortelegram.com. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

It's just a simple bus ride, right? I rode in a yellow school bus with the Solon Springs baseball team to the Metrodome in Minneapolis a couple of years ago.

I figured it was time to take another ride, so this time I joined the Superior High School girls basketball team on their trip to Marshfield for a second-round playoff game on Saturday.

I'd forgotten what its like to ride with a team of young women.

8:01 a.m. -- My fiancé, Jenny Carlson, who is the "C" team coach for the Spartans, and I walk into the school to pick up any last minute things that need to be brought out to the bus. I run into SHS coach Dan Schulz who calls me a name not suitable for print after he sees my orange hat with a white tiger paw on it, the very same colors as the Marshfield Tigers, Superior's opponent later today. We laugh for a bit and I explain to a player who walks by that I mistakenly wore a maroon shirt to the Spartans playoff game at home on Tuesday. It was the same shirt the entire coaching staff for Antigo had on. So, I figured since the Spartan girls won their first playoff game in about 15 years, then I better wear the colors of the opposing team at least for a little bit on Saturday. Maybe it would be lucky?

8:04 a.m. -- The hallway at SHS is littered with baton twirlers dolled up like mini-pageant queens. After zigging and zagging my way through the tiny dancers I make it out to the bus and take my seat.

8:11 a.m. -- Coach Schulz does a final head count of the players, coaches and extra riders and we are off on our journey. Not bad for a scheduled 8 a.m. departure time.

8:28 a.m. -- I realize this is my first trip with a girls varsity team since October of 1995. I was the student assistant coach of our girls' volleyball team while I was in high school in Willmar, Minn. I even earned a letter for my services; yes, I earned a letter in a girls sport.

8:40 a.m. -- Raya Schulz, the 5-year old daughter of Coach Schulz, wins the award for asking the first "Are we there yet?" of the trip. We are on Highway 53 at the time, near Bennett.

9:51 a.m. -- Jenny is sound asleep in her seat across the aisle from me as I sit and watch "Baby Mama" on the TV in the corner of the bus. The TV on the right loses its picture anytime we hit a bump, and then comes on again when we hit another bump. I can safely say movie choices differ greatly from a girl's team to a guy's team. We used to watch movies like "Hoosiers," "Michael Jordan's Playground," "Rudy," and "Rocky IV."

10:31 a.m. -- We arrive at the mall in Eau Claire. The plan is to get something to eat and basically walk around for a while to stretch out our legs. I buy a Wisconsin Badgers t-shirt and eat some tacos from Taco John's.

11:49 a.m. -- We leave the mall and head toward Marshfield. Our 11:30 a.m. is put on hold after Coach Schulz, his wife, Wendy, Jenny and JV coach Kristen Lehman get back to the bus late because they were looking for shirts for the Schulz' girls. I can vouch for the players by saying they are all in the bus at the right time.

11:53 a.m. -- I witness another regular occurrence on a girls trip that I never have seen on a boys trip -- hair braiding. Coach Carlson and Lehman begin to braid the Schulz daughters' hair as some of the other girls begin on each other's hair.

12:01 p.m. -- I really appreciate having my own seat. I can remember road trips my freshman year when I got moved up to the sophomore team. Since I was the youngest kid (and 6-foot-5) on the bus, I got stuck sitting with a kid who was 6-3. Not fun.

12:39 p.m. -- Coach Schulz puts on a DVD of the Spartans game against Duluth Denfeld. The chatter on the bus drops dramatically as the players watch themselves on the small TVs.

1:18 p.m. -- We arrive in Marshfield.

1:29 p.m. -- Jenny braids the last of the players' hair. Her hidden talent keeps her pretty busy on the bus.

1:33 p.m. -- We arrive at Marshfield High School.

1:40 p.m. -- I run into Don Leighton, who is already at MHS. He came down the night before to broadcasted the SHS boys' game on iFan. Leighton introduces me to his new friend, Kay, the wife of former Major League Baseball player Gary Varsho. The Varshos have two daughters on the Marshfield hoops team; the senior will be heading to Purdue next year to play softball. Leighton (a.k.a. Lance Boyle) requests a photo with his new friend.

1:44 p.m. -- I want an "A.K.A." My friend, Nate Ahlberg, Solon Springs teacher and baseball coach, gave me a great idea for an alias, or pen name, after my hunting exploits this fall. Willmar Fudd, mixing my hometown with another poor hunter, Elmer Fudd. I can picture it in my mind, "The Adventures of Willmar Fudd." Classic.

4:48 p.m. -- We get back on the bus after the Spartans lose to Marshfield. It's the last game of the Spartans' season and the last game ever for seniors Ashlee Knight, MacKenzie Newman, Janelle Strewler, Christa Diedrich and Chelsea Breimon. I'm sure the tears that began to roll as time expired on the court will soon dry as the girls reflect on their season and for some their careers.

5:53 p.m. -- The volume of the chatter starts to rise from the back of the bus as questions begin about where we are going to eat. The coaches are busy checking scores from other games around the state and breaking down the "what if" scenarios from today's game.

6:30 p.m. -- The bus stops at the Old Country Buffet in Eau Claire. I softly remind myself to eat slowly and not overeat, which I have been known to do. Jenny hears my reminder and shoots me a quick smile.

6:57 p.m. -- While making my third trip up to the food at OCB, I see what I think looks like the grey hooded sweatshirt that Ashlee Knight was wearing in the bus out of the corner of my eye. I was kidding around with Ashlee at our table, so I figured I'd keeping it going by the food. "Are you up here again already?" I asked as I leaned over to the hooded figure while keeping my vision on the food. No reply. I finally look over and realize the person in the hood is a 13-year-old boy, not Ashlee. Whoops.

7:32 p.m. -- We board the bus and start back to Superior.

7:36 p.m. -- The girls decide to put "Bride Wars" in the DVD player. Again, a movie I'm willing to bet they never watch on the boys bus.

8:21 p.m. -- The coaches and I begin to ignore the movie and start talking about basketball. The coaches talk about funny moments from this season, great games they've seen and check on more scores from the afternoon, including the Northwestern Tigers boys score.

9:30 p.m. -- I think the girls are starting to go a little stir crazy. Sophomore Raya Kosey begins singing "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith very loudly in the back of the bus. However Kosey would add "Coach Lehman" to most of the verses of the song. So for at least the next 15 minutes we got to listen to Kosey serenade Coach Lehman. This is definitely something that wouldn't happen on the guys bus.

10:06 p.m. - The bus pulls into the SHS parking lot. The girls file out of the bus for the last time this season. For some it will be the last bus trip of their high school careers. It's fairly quiet as they step out; I don't think they'll realize the magnitude of the trip until its long past. I still have great memories of my days participating in high school sports. They are really memories that last a life time.

I want to thank Coach Schulz and the entire girls basketball team for allowing me to join them on their trip to Marshfield.

Jed Carlson is the Superior Telegram photographer. Call him at 395-5024 or e-mail jcarlson@superiortelegram.com

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