Playoffs begin Friday for the Minnesota Lynx when the team hosts the first-round of the Western Conference semifinals starting against San Antonio.
The success this season has boosted attendance for the WNBA team and fans are hopeful the Lynx go all the way the finals. They head to the playoffs with the best record in the league and fans have been packing the Target Center this season.
The team averages more than 8,400 fans each game, said ticket sales manager Joe Schwei. Attendance is up 12 percent over last year, the greatest one year increase in the club's history. Their inaugural season was 1999.
"It's because we are winning," Schwei said. "We have had a terrific product here for a long time, but in a lot of years it hasn't translated to a lot of wins on the court. That is happening this year and people are taking notice and we are just getting terrific crowds."
One reason is the roster. The Lynx has talent — including big WNBA stars like Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore and Taj McWilliams-Franklin.
Warming up before the last regular season home game, coach Cheryl Reeve says the team's strong performance has another upside.
"I think what it means to young girls, the exposure that we are getting," Reeve said. "It's teaching them about the WNBA. It's giving them something that they can dream about and they are able to say to their mom and dad, "Hey, I want to go out there and I want to go watch the Lynx and I want to be like them.' "
On the sidelines wearing oversized team jerseys, about half a dozen tween girl basketball players watch the team warm up. Holly Winiarczyk, a 14-year old basketball player from Wisconsin, said she's inspired by what she sees on the court.
"I like how they work together and how they have fun and stuff while they play," she said.
It's clear what 11-year old Emma Anderson from Big Lake likes best about the Lynx: "Just everything," she said. "They are just my home team. They work together and they are fun to watch."
Just then, a couple Lynx players brush past the girls on their way to the locker room. The players smile and wave to fans.
After returning the greeting, the star-struck girls grab their cell phones and snap a few pictures.
By game time the stands are packed with cheering crowds. In the front row, Alexandria Horne, 37, from Eden Prairie sits with her mom and one of her daughters. She's a basketball fanatic but traditionally follows NBA teams. The Lynx have converted her into a WNBA fan, too, she said.
"I actually just got into the Lynx this year because of their record so I don't have a favorite person right now," Horne said. "They are doing really well so it's not going to be hard for me to gravitate to them some more."
The family is planning to buy tickets to the playoffs.
Team officials are working to capture new fans and broaden their base. One group they're targeting is dads with daughters.
At halftime, Edina dad Kevin Bennett, 35, is grabbing a quick snack on the concourse with his four-year old daughter, Molly. This is their first Lynx game.
"I want her to see other women playing basketball and I want her to see that it's something that she can do. I want her to know that it's not just for men."
With his daughter on his lap, Bennett says he is planning to bring her back for the playoffs.
"Once she asked me 'Can girls play basketball?' Because she typically only sees on TV boys and men playing so she's like, 'Dad, can girls play?' "
"I just want my daughter to be able to see that girls do anything. She needs to know that it doesn't matter what the perception is of what you see or what the image is that is portrayed to you," Bennett said. "If you're interested, if you enjoy it, you can do it and daddy is going to support you. Right?"
After halftime the emcee urges fans to buy playoff tickets so the Lynx can pack the Target Center for tournament home games. If regular season attendance is an indication, the finals are likely to be crowded. Playoff ticket sales have been brisk, and team officials say they've already sold 50 percent more season tickets for next season than they sold this season.