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Tournament trip eases sting for Vermont's Fjeld

Vermont's Evan Fjeld describes the last few weeks of his life as a roller coaster. There was the euphoria of the Catamounts winning the America East Tournament and gaining the automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. But just four days before, Fjeld learned that his mother had died of breast cancer.

"There was some lows," said Fjeld, a junior. "Then winning the [conference] tournament and I got to share that with my dad and all my family was watching back home. It was really special."

With the exception of coach Mike Lonergan and assistant Matt Hahn, no one knew of his mother's condition. But Fjeld's season was better than expected when he earned third-team all-league honors after averaging 10.6 points and 6.1 rebounds.

"It didn't start out great, but as it's gone on I'm pretty proud of the season I had," said Fjeld, who averaged 4.6 points and 2.6 rebounds as a sophomore. "I didn't think I could be an all-conference player this year. People thought I could, but I didn't think it was going to happen so fast."

Said Lonergan: "That's probably why he had such a great year. He was playing for his mom."

Fjeld learned of his mother's illness when he was in high school in Durham, N.C., but his family thought she had beaten it. But last April, the cancer returned and Fjeld's father, Jon, told Hahn in January to keep an eye on Evan. Hahn's mother is also going through a difficult battle with leukemia.

"Matt told me and I just pretended I didn't know," Lonergan said. "You wouldn't have known anything. She was always at the games but the last couple of games she wasn't there."

Just 16 hours after Evan informed the team about his mom's illness, Susan Ziegler-Fjeld passed away on March 8. Ziegler-Fjeld was 52. She was born in Buffalo; her family moved from Cheektowaga to Durham in the late 1970s.

"The guys were shocked to hear she had cancer and to die 16 hours later -- it was a tough week," Lonergan said. "But our team has good guys and they were there to support him."

Fjeld told Lonergan that even on the day she died his mom was still sharp and could talk.

"I didn't think it would turn so quickly," Lonergan said.

Fjeld leaned on his teammates. The day his mom died, he texted a friend that he was at a restaurant and that they could stop by if they wanted. The entire team showed up.

"We had a pretty good time and joked and laughed," Fjeld said. "It was pretty fun."

Now Fjeld and the Catamounts hope to cap the season with a monumental upset over Syracuse.

"A 16th seed is going to beat a one seed some day," Fjeld said. "Maybe it will happen Friday."

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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FIRST ROUND: Tipoff: Approx. 9:40 p.m., Friday, HSBC Arena • TV: Ch.4 • Latest line: Syracuse (-17 1/2 ) Fast fact: Head coach JimBoeheim is second in victories (827) among active coaches behind Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.

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