STORRS-For the second straight day, students and fans celebrated a national championship on the UConn campus. After the national champion men’s basketball team had a pep rally on Tuesday, the UConn women’s basketball was honored with a victory lap around campus on Wednesday.
The Huskies won its ninth national championship and completed a 40-0 season Tuesday night with a 79-58 win over previously unbeaten Notre Dame in Nashville. But coach Geno Auriemma and his players made sure the crowd knew that the day wasn’t all about them.
“I knew right then and there, that’s the best thing that could’ve happened to my players, that was so inspirational,” Auriemma said of the UConn men’s win over Kentucky Monday night. “You like to share things…winning is great…when you win by yourself it’s not as meaningful. What makes it even bigger, we’re able to share it with the men’s team and with the football team, with the track team, with the field hockey team…we’re able to share it with every student-athlete on campus.”
Members of the men’s basketball team arrived to the rally on Fairfield Way, across from Gampel Pavilion, in between the Studen Union and the School of Business, before the women’s basketball team’s bus pulled up. They were greeted with cheers and handed pom poms as the pep band blared the UConn fight song.
Moments later, members of the football team walked across Hillside Road in their full practice uniforms. The crowd waited for the UConn women to make their loop around campus, which began on North Eagleville Road.
As students stood outside and watched through windows in the Student Union, the national champions got off the bus and walked through crowds of students to get to the podium.
Bob Joyce emceed the event and introduced UConn athletic director Warde Manuel, who attended the men’s national championship in Texas on Monday night and Tuesday night’s women’s game.
“I want to thank all of our fans for coming out here today,” Manuel said. “This is now completely understood by the rest of this country as the center of the universe as college basketball.”
UConn completed a sweep of both the men’s and women’s basketball national championships for the second time. UConn became the first Division 1 school to win both titles in 2004.
“When we watched the guys play on Saturday, we knew that when they won, that something special was happening,” Auriemma said.
Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, the two senior leaders of the Huskies, spoke to the crowd. Dolson scored 17 points and grabbed 16 rebounds while Hartley added 13 points in Tuesday’s championship game. Both couldn’t contain their emotions when they held the microphone.
“Storrs, Connecticut isn’t the most exciting place…it wasn’t the activities that you could do that made me want to come here,” Dolson said. “It was the people, it was the feeling that I got when I walked on campus…playing in front of you guys for four years has been an honor and I’m going to miss it”
Hartley turned to Auriemma and broke down on stage while thanking him.
“Coach you mean so much to me and I love you so much,” Hartley said. “These fans are amazing.”
Manuel ended the celebration thanking the fans once more, but also sent out one final message about the athletic programs at UConn.
“This is a championship institution,” Manuel said. “This is the first time in our history that we have three national championships in one year.”
The UConn field hockey team won the national championship on Nov. 24, beating Duke, 2-0.
“There’s absolutely no doubt, that if you come to school here, you are a champion and you’re going to live with champions,” Auriemma said.
To celebrate the Huskies’ second basketball championship sweep, both teams will be honored with a parade in Hartford on Sunday at 4 p.m.
By Colin McDonough, Hartford Courant