Fans welcome back champions
Posted: Tuesday April 04, 2000 12:06 AM
STORRS, Conn. (AP) -- All over Connecticut on Monday, school principals politely looked the other way as parents pulled their kids out early for -- ahem - 'dentist appointments.'
Elsewhere, more than a few employees skipped out early with a sudden fever.
Husky fever, to be exact.
About 5,000 fans turned out for a mid-afternoon rally at Gampel Pavilion to help the Connecticut Huskies celebrate their second national championship in five years.
The Hossack sisters -- Ashley, 12 and Shauna, 10 -- of Storrs sported blue and white face paint and waved their signs to the beat of the pep band. They weren't in school Monday because "we said we had a dentist appointment," said Ashley.
"But we wanted to celebrate their victory," she said.
Their mother, Colleen, knew they were playing hooky. She was sitting right next to them.
"I'm really proud of the team," she said. "I'm hoping maybe my kids will go to UConn and maybe they'll want to play basketball."
The crowd was treated to the highlights of Sunday night's 71-52 rout of perennial power Tennessee. Their frenzy peaked as the team made its way onto the floor, the scene of so many other victories in the past few years.
UConn (36-1) has won seven straight Big East titles and breezed through this year's NCAA tournament. Coach Geno Auriemma was able to play every player on his bench in all six tournament games.
University President Philip Austin called the rally "an official reaffirmation of what we have known for a long time -- we're No. 1."
It was the second straight year the state and campus embraced a national champion. The UConn men won it all last year and a few of the men's players attended the rally, cheering as the women were introduced.
"We're very proud of both the men and women. They are true ambassadors in every way," said Wayne Locust, director of admissions. "They represent the university in the light that we want them to represent us."
The team was presented with the NCAA trophy and the Women's Coaches Basketball Association trophy. Auriemma accepted his AP Coach of the Year award.
"You all can take a little bit of satisfaction for taking these kids to where they want to be," Auriemma told the crowd. "Not everybody gets to accomplish their dreams. We're the lucky ones.
"Last night we won a lot of awards, a lot of accolades and a lot of honors," said Auriemma. "But the honor that we have is to coach these guys."
Earlier, hundreds of fans greeted the team at Bradley International Airport.
Ginnie Christiansen, who on Sunday was battling a very real, 101-degree fever, stood in the rain to celebrate the homecoming. She and her daughter find the Huskies "truly inspiring," she said.
"They bring more joy than anything else," said her daughter, 29-year-old Traci Christiansen. "They are so phenomenal."
Nancy Discipio, 34, of Granby pulled her daughters -- Jenna, 9, and Taylor, 6 -- out of school to meet the team.
"It's a holiday at our house," Discipio said, laughing.
Sally Scully of West Hartford left work early to get to the airport and then motored to campus for the rally. She sat several rows from the floor and wasn't able to personally thank the team, but she did have a message for the Huskies.
"I would thank them for this moment in time, for bringing us all together, no matter what your issues are," she said. "Everybody today is in a great mood."
Yet, there were tears.
As highlights of the title game flashed on the scoreboard screen, seniors Stacy Hansmeyer and Paige Sauer sobbed. They were Auriemma's top recruits four years ago and watched themselves for the final time in a UConn uniform.
Hansmeyer, who calmly sang the national anthem before more than 10,000 fans at a recent game, struggled with her emotions Monday.
"You have made my four years so special," she told the crowd. "What a way for us to go out."