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Final Four means dying cell phone, all-night work sessions and a homecoming for Auburn hoops spokesperson

Cody Voga (left) handles media relations and communications for head coach Bruce Pearl and the Auburn men's basketball team. Photo: Courtesy of Cody Voga, Auburn Athletics
Cody Voga (left) handles media relations and communications for head coach Bruce Pearl and the Auburn men's basketball team.

April 04, 2019 06:04 PM

A trip to the Final Four can be a thrilling experience for those associated with teams fortunate enough to advance that far.

But it can also mean a lot of work.

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Just ask Cody Voga. Not that the Assistant Director of Athletics Communications at Auburn is complaining one bit.

"It's been pretty slammed," said Voga, whose primary duties include handling media relations and communications for the men's basketball team, which means he has been going almost non-stop since the Tigers knocked off Kentucky 77-71 in overtime last Sunday in Kansas City to win the Midwest Region and advance to this weekend's Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium.

"It's been crazy ever since the final buzzer sounded in Kansas City. My phone hasn't stopped ringing or buzzing. In fact, it actually died on the way home. I was just getting too many calls."

And it hasn't just been media requests Voga has been fielding - although there have been plenty of those.

He's also been hearing from friends and family members. That's because Auburn's first Final Four appearance will take place just three hours away from where the Jewell, Iowa native grew up, and in the same city in which he worked as an athletic communications assistant at the University of Minnesota before taking a job at Auburn in the summer of 2016.

"That's the really incredible part," Voga said before his team departed for Minneapolis. "My parents are coming. It's just a few hours away from my hometown.

"And I know a bunch of people in Minnesota. So it makes it even more exciting."

Voga is a 2013 graduate of Iowa's Buena Vista University who worked for two years in the athletics communications office at DePaul before coming to Minnesota, where he helped out with handling media relations and communications for sports like football and baseball during the year he spent on campus.

"I think everybody in our office was pulling for Auburn because it meant Cody would be coming back to Minnesota," said Paul Rovnak, the Director of Communications for Gopher Athletics, who worked with Voga during his time on campus at the U of M.

"We're all excited to get the chance to see him again. It's so cool to see what he's been able to go on to do."

Voga applied for an open position at Auburn and started at the school in July of 2016. His first year there, he handled women's soccer and softball. And by his second year, he was helping out with football. When an opening occurred in men's basketball just before the 2017-18 season started, he asked for the chance to fill it.

And he's been there ever since. Meaning he's had a front-row seat for the Tigers' remarkable run to the Final Four - a journey that included back-to-back-to-back wins over Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky - three of the most storied programs in college basketball history.

Along the way, the national media attention has steadily grown.

"I got up Sunday morning and we were playing at 1:20 p.m.," he said. "So I got to the arena, got set up and did all the pregame stuff. Then, when it was over, I took care of all my postgame duties.

"We got on the plane and came back. And most people were probably able to go out and celebrate. Or just go home and go to bed. But I went to the office and my boss and I pulled an all-nighter getting our material together for the Final Four. There was a lot of work that had to be done to get ready."

But Voga said the effort is more than worth it.

"It's crazy because we went up to play at Kentucky (in a regular-season SEC matchup on Feb. 23)," he said. "It was my first time being in Rupp Arena and it's such a great basketball environment there. But we went in thinking we could hang right there with them and we ended up getting run off the court (in an 80-53 loss).

"Then we had a quick turnaround and played at Georgia just days later. And (sophomore forward) Chuma Okeke hits a game-winning shot (a 3-pointer with 24 seconds left to go in a 78-75 victory). That was really the turning point. We haven't lost since. Everything has come together for us."

Next up is a clash with Virginia in Saturday's first national semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium. But before that, there will be plenty of media requests for Voga to field.

Auburn arrived in the Twin Cities Wednesday night. And though he will no doubt be incredibly busy while here, he said he intends to find a way to see old friends as well.

"In all the chaos, I will make time for that," he said. "Minnesota was such a special place for me. I was only there a year. But I made so many friends. People who had a big impact on my life.

"I wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn't for the people up there."

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