Wild opening topples giants, christens new stars

First two rounds produce unexpectedly varied Sweet Sixteen

Wild opening topples giants, christens new stars


It’s a banner year for the underdogs in Friendship Madness. A wiley group of up-and-comers toppled traditional powerhouses in the first and second rounds to open the doors for the most diverse Sweet Sixteen ever.

With the stage set for a scrappy fight to the finish, one thing is now certain: Friendship Madness is guaranteed a first-time champion. Three former runners-up highlight the remaining field, but none have reached the pinnacle.

But before we get to the 16 still in the hunt for the coveted Best Friend title, let’s take a look back at the high points from the first four days of competition.

The Underdog

The biggest story by a mile was Brian Henry‘s scrappy second team (UMBC) toppling overall top-seeded Max Calanni (Virginia). The Big Eight conference mates met on the second day of competition, and it wasn’t even close. Henry’s Retrievers raced out to a big lead and did not relent down the stretch, becoming the first 16 seed ever to advance to the Second Round.

The Play-in

The biggest change 2018 brought was the reluctant inclusion of the play-in games. Four friends battled for two 11 seeds, and one stood above the rest.

After defeating Urb League foe Kaitlin Murphey (Arizona St.) to stamp her ticket to the Big Dance, Jenny Gilbreth (Syracuse) — a.k.a. Jenny Boo Boo — punched through Emily Brake (TCU) to secure a matchup against darkhorse favorite Mason Maidt (Michigan St.) in the Second Round.

Boo Boo continued to make history — and set a high precedent for all future play-in friends to come — by upsetting Maidt’s Spartans and catapulting herself into the Sweet Sixteen. She showed up to prove she belonged in the tournament and put together a pair of wins much to the envy of friends across the league.

The Trickster

On the other side of the bracket, another 11 seed made waves, much to the chagrin of a longtime participant in the tournament.

After surprisingly dispatching a newcomer in the first round, Craig Marose (Loyola-Chicag0) kept the upsets coming against Jeremiah Davis (Tennessee), who had hoped to see a deep run this year.

“Creg,” ever the mischievous one, may not yet be done in this tournament.

The Bluebloods

With two No. 1s toppled in the first two rounds, only a pair of top seeds remain. Brian “Ed” Henry (Villanova), for whom a title has been agonizingly elusive, cruised through his first opponents with ease.

Though Jared “Jed” Lovelady (Kansas) showed signs of struggle in his debut at No. 1, he nonetheless prevailed. Are the two on a collision course to meet in the Friendly Four for a spot in the title game?

The First Family

For the first time in modern Friendship Madness history, neither Lusk advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.

This seemed to be the year Lindsey Ruta Lusk (North Carolina) would outshine her husband, the most decorated friend of all time. Many experts even projected her to play in the Best Friend game.

After easily dispatching her opening-round opponent, she seemed on track to face CMA foe Jake Lovett (Michigan) in the Sweet Sixteen. However, Katy Schones (Texas A&M) — making her first appearance in the tournament — muscled her way past LRL. With a loss from her secondary team already in hand, Lindsey will have to wait until next year.

Chris Lusk‘s primary team, Arizona, was a favorite to reach the semifinals from his No. 4 spot — a result of sanctions against him from the 2013 tournament — but was upset by newcomer Adam Kelley (Buffalo).

Not all seemed lost, however, after Marshall thundered (heh) past Jackson and Tarryn Anderson (Wichita St.) in the first round. Those hopes were dashed by the suffocating full-court press of Annelise Russell (West Virginia), and the defending champ bowed out of the tournament.

A Sweet Sixteen without the Lusks? Madness indeed.

Waving goodbye

Let’s bid farewell to those dispatched to Friendship Sadness.

And then there were 16

Let’s get to know the friends still in the hunt for a title a little better, shall we? A new feature for this year’s Sweet Sixteen will be emojis for each team you can use to show your support.

(1) Brian Henry, Villanova
Emoji: 💂🏾‍♂️
Favorite Power Ranger: Zack
Defining moment: One time, at our favorite bar, he and Jed were trying to jump in the air into each other like athletes do, something they had done on occasion to hype themselves up at work. This time, however, he catapulted Jed into a space heater and it broke. They still let us go there, though I’m not sure why.

(1) Jared Lovelady, Kansas
Emoji: 👨🏻‍🍳
Favorite classical musician: 
Yo-Yo Ma
Origin story: As an intrepid oil man out in West Texas, he dealt with a lot of older country folk. For some reason, they thought his name was “Jed” and he got tired of trying to correct them. That’s how he got his superhero name.

(2) Chris Silberstein, Purdue
Emoji: 🐻
Favorite Starburst flavor:
Defining moment: So sometimes I can be the worst, and we got in a big fight. I thought maybe the friendship was over. After a bit, I took the scene from “Say Anything…” with the boombox and changed it out for a song we’d bonded over on the rooftop. He had to forgive me after that, right?

(2) Greg Horton, Duke
Emoji: 🐒
Favorite Oscar film: Pitch Perfect 3
Origin story: So 30 years ago, he and a couple friends decided to rob a bank. He planned to buy a boat with the money because what early 20-something doesn’t want a boat? It didn’t go as planned, and they got caught. The saddest part of the whole story? He still doesn’t have a boat.

(3) Keifer Truett, Texas Tech
Emoji: 🤠
Biggest fear: Leprechauns
Defining moment: Steen came home for his birthday a couple of years ago, and we went to Norman to get turnt. After getting smashed at The Library, we crammed as many people as we could into a couple of cars and headed for Keifer’s. He revealed his hidden talent of singing on Rock Band and let us all crash on the floor or the couch. We started the next day with a shot. Why were we like that? 

(3) Jake Lovett, Michigan
Emoji: 🗞
HIMYM equivalent: Marshall Eriksen
Defining moment: I’ve been to quite a few weddings, and the married couple are typically so busy and pulled in so many directions that I hardly get to see them. Not so with this gentleman. When he married Annelise, he made a concerted effort to spend a lot of time with us in the photo booth and on the dance floor. Because that’s the kind of guy Jake is — he cares deeply for others, even on the busiest day of his life.

(4) Kyle Todaro, Gonzaga
Emoji: 🐊
Favorite rap lyric: “I say my name is Kyle and I’ve got mad style/I’m coming at you smooth, just like a crocodile” (Kyle Todaro, 2012)
Defining moment: When we went to visit Kyle in Seattle, he was still working when we landed. With some time to kill, we stepped into a bar and proceeded to get day drunk. By the time he met up with us later, poor Kyle had to deal with three idiots yelling about getting donuts and how the city no longer has a basketball team. I’m still not sure why he wanted to stay friends with us after that.

(5) Annelise Russell, West Virginia
Emoji: 🍏
Favorite Beatle: George Martin
Defining moment: I love to tell the story about when Annelise told me she didn’t think I mattered, but there’s another story from that time that means much more to me. She told me later that after the first couple volleyball stories I turned in to her, she felt she could put my copy directly on the page without looking at it if she was in a hurry. As a relatively new writer trying to find my footing, the fact that she trusted my work to be clean and correct meant the world to me. She gave me the confidence in myself to take a job as sports editor after her, which altered my life forever.

(5) Jessie Opoien, Kentucky
Emoji: 🧀
Hidden talent: Correctly guessing how many jelly beans are in the jar
Origin story: So we met in a little conference room in Louisville. The Big 12 schools who had flown out for the journalism conference held a little mixer. Our OU Daily contingent gravitated to the Iowa State folks, equal parts because the other groups were weird, we liked the ideas we were sharing with them and we thought Jessie was really cute. Who knew we’d keep in touch on Twitter and reunite the next year in Orlando? Or when two of us got married in Oklahoma?

(5) Rocky Thomas, Clemson
Emoji: 🥊
Astrological sign: Zodiac killer
Biggest secret: He doesn’t know what Friendship Madness is yet. I haven’t really had a chance to explain it to him or let him know he’s in the Sweet Sixteen.

(7) Katy Schones, Texas A&M
Emoji: 😸
Spirit animal: Marie from Disney’s “Aristocats”
Origin story: There are too many stories to choose from with this one. She is goofy and occasionally a little clumsy and yells loudly about genitals at bars and unapologetically loves her cats. The best Katy Schones story is waiting to be written the next time you get a drink with her.

(7) Scott Michael, Nevada
Emoji: 🦔
Musical influences: George Michael, Michael Bolton, Scott Weiland, Michael Scott
Defining moment: I met Scott after the heyday of Hush Hush Commotion had mostly passed, but they were going to play Norman Music Fest that year, and we’d all get to see them perform. I was so stoked. When the moment finally arrived, we heard them play one song, then my friend Tim and I stepped outside to meet up with these girls we were trying to take home after the show. When we went to go back inside the venue, they told us it was at capacity and we couldn’t go back in. So I missed basically the whole show. Fortunately, I got to see them perform a couple years ago, with their wives fan-girling over them in the crowd and everything. He’s still got it.

(9) Megan Crawford, Kansas St.
Emoji: 🌻
Biggest weakness: Strength
Origin story: Megan is from Kansas, and I’m convinced whatever tiny country town she grew up in had a summer festival to celebrate the blooming of the sunflowers. There was a festival princess competition, and all the little girls were super competitive about winning the tiara — but none more than Megan. She had an almost Jordan-like killer instinct and would train all year for the talent portion. (Rumor has it a video exists of her juggling flaming chainsaws as a 9-year-old.) However, after losing shamefully her final year of competition, she was banished from the town until she could regain favor with the sunflower gods. Or, you know, something like that.

(9) Ty Calanni, Florida St.
Emoji: 🎧
Musical Mt. Rushmore: Bono, Ringo, Rambo, Toto
Defining moment: My decision to transfer from Nebraska was made suddenly and late in the summer. The first person I met when I got to Norman was Ty, who had just returned from Uganda. We sat on the porch and talked about our trips and our hopes for the upcoming school year. He and the people he would bring into my life radically changed everything for me that day, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

(11) Jenny Gilbreth, Syracuse
Emoji: 🙇🏻‍♀️
Secret passion: Chia pets
Defining moment: I once went to a bar with some people, and Boo Boo was there, but she’d decided to take a little hiatus from drinking. I remember thinking how difficult that would be and how strange it was, but I admired her resolve. When I undertook a similar personal challenge much later, I remembered how she had succeeded in cutting drinks out of her life for a period but still had fun with friends. If she could do it, maybe there was a chance I could too. Even though she can be occasionally bratty (we all are at points, if we’re honest), she’s a good person to have in your life.

(11) Craig Marose, Loyola-Chicago
Emoji: 🍸
Greatest talent: Unique cocktail-shaking techniques
Defining moment: One day at work, Creg must have been particularly bored — or inspired. He set up this elaborate scavenger hunt for Luke, complete with rhyming riddles and hidden clues. Finally, after at least eight different cards sent us all around the restaurant, we found Creg’s treasure box, labeled “Super Secret Treasure” with a pirate skull on it. What was inside? A crudely drawn picture of a penis. Silly Creg.

May the best friend win.