(5) Annelise Russell Minnesota, UNC Wilmington

Annelise is a 5-seed from The Daily Conference and is leading Minnesota and UNC Wilmington in the tournament. Annelise is in the Friendship Madness field for the fourth time this year.

Message from the commissioner

I didn’t make a very big splash when I landed at The OU Daily, the university’s independent student-run paper, from Nebraska in 2009. In fact, it was so small that Annelise, my boss as the sports editor at the time, told me later she thought I didn’t really matter.

I’m glad to say we fixed that.

She was a delight to work for and always ready to make a joke about what appeared to be a budding romance with that year’s editor in chief. She always kept me on my toes. We drifted apart a little bit after she graduated and started studying across the globe, but then she and tournament staple Jake Lovett started dating, and here she was again. And I’m so glad.

Annelise is always the proponent for gender equality in sports, citing Title IX more than the authors themselves probably do. She taught me a lot of colorful phrases straight out of a grandmother’s dictionary. (I still say “wackadoodles” entirely too much in my regular life.) She is happiest with an apple in her hand. Her tenacity for fact-checking and editing helped shape me into the person I am today. She is a Friend™ because her goofy spirit is contageous and her humor is as sharp as a wittling knife.

Also because, as I’m sure she’d point out, women are still underrepresented all too often in this tournament.