March Madness was not kind to many brackets this year. But while others were agonizing over their predictions, one Minnesota native took home a $150,000 grand prize for winning a women's basketball bracket challenge.
Emily Syverud is a St. Paul native who began following NCAA women's basketball this year at Just Women's Sports. When the website announced it was holding a bracket challenge, Syverud decided to give it a try.
She went on to win the largest prize ever awarded for a women's college basketball bracket challenge: $150,000. That's $50,000 more than what ESPN offered in its women's champ, while CBS Sports' grand prize for both its men's and women's challenges was $10,000.
"I thought it would be fun to actually create a bracket based on some knowledge instead of picking teams based on whose name I like best - is how I picked my men's bracket." Syverud told Just Women's Sports.
Syverud's knowledge was on full display as she correctly predicted South Carolina, Stanford, UConn and Louisville to reach Minneapolis for the NCAA Women's Final Four. She also was perfect in the Bridgeport and Spokane regions with a couple of hiccups with Baylor and Iowa getting upset early in the tournament.
“I knew that some powerhouses, like South Carolina and Stanford, would go far and I also felt like I had some insider knowledge about which teams could create their own Cinderella story," Syverud said. "I also had to root for some of my favorites, like the University of Iowa, where my dad went to college.”
Syverud is a medical student at the University of Minnesota and plans to use the money to pay off her student loans. She also plans to donate to nonprofit organizations around the Twin Cities and treating herself and her fiancé to first-class flights for their honeymoon.
The grand prize is another sign of the increase in popularity of women's sports. This year's tournament averaged 634,000 viewers per game -- a 16 percent increase over last year's tournament and the highest number in the past decade, according to ABC News.
South Carolina's victory over UConn in the national championship game also averaged 4.85 million viewers, making it the most-watched women's championship game since 2004.