Panther plays in front of friends at NCAA - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Panther plays in front of friends at NCAA

PORTLAND, Oregon (KWWL) -- UNI tips off Thursday at 1:30 pm in its NCAA tournament game against Purdue. For most people around the Panther athletic program, coming to Portland didn't exactly come as the best news. It's the farthest of the eight regional sites from Cedar Falls. But for one Panther, it's a dream come true.

In his first season with the Panthers, Ali Farokhmanesh can't wait to be a part of March Madness for the first time.

"It's definitely a dream," says Farokhmanesh. "I'm excited to get out there on the court. I don't think it'll hit me until we're actually out on the court and about to tip off."

Playing in Portland makes it even better.

"Our first reaction was this is way too far away," said Cindy Fredrick, Ali's Mom. "Second reaction is what a great opportunity for Ali to play in front of a lot of friends and for a lot of our friends to see him play as well."

Ali grew up just over 300 miles from here in Pullman, Washington. His mom spent 15 seasons coaching volleyball at Washington State University before coming to Iowa. Ali expects to have about a dozen friends cheering him on Thursday. Among them, his 5th grade teacher.

"Hopefully I'll see all those guys. It'll be fun, though, I haven't seen a lot of these people in probably two years," said Farokhmanesh.

"He hasn't seen these guys since he graduated from high school now and they haven't seen him play so it's just an amazing opportunity for him to come back with his team," said Fredrick.

Ali hopes to catch up with his friends after the game, but it might take a win to make that happen. If UNI loses, the team will fly home within just a few hours.

Click here to read Bryan Goettel's blog as he follows the Panthers in Portland.

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