Beaver Nation throws welcome home party for heroic women's basketball team
CORVALLIS Hundreds of fans waited at Parker Plaza an extra hour Tuesday afternoon for the moment, the experience, the celebration.
At 3:33 p.m., about 60 minutes behind the announced travel schedule, who everyone had come to see made a grand entrance.
The crowd erupted as the OSU womens basketball team stepped off its bus and onto the stage with the school band playing the fight song and center Ruth Hamblin clutching the regional trophy the Beavers had won the night before in Dallas, Texas.
Beaver fans cheered throughout an unprecedented welcome back ceremony. They were there to honor the No. 2-seeded Oregon State team that knocked off No. 1 seed Baylor 60-57 on Monday, thus earning a trip to the NCAA Final Four and a national semifinal game Sunday versus perennial power Connecticut.
OSU President Ed Ray spoke first, after he went down the line to high-five the players and shake hands with Beavers coach Scott Rueck.
Beaver Nation, is this terrific or what? Weve never seen anything like this, Ray said.
Ray and others spoke of how Rueck, his staff and the players were able to basically make something out of nothing and create a highly ranked team from the rubble of a program in disarray and crisis.
Scott is much too modest, Ray said. People talk about turning around a program, how its like renovating a house. What Scott and the coaches and the players have done in the last six years is basically a total rebuild. And they built it stronger and they built it better and they built it to make history.
Ray spoke of how very, very proud he is of the players.
Theyve got grit, he said. They know how to persist. They know how to be resilient, and they dont worry about playing anybody, they just want back on the court.
That was the start of a reference to 36-0 UConn, the seemingly unstoppable force the Beavers will meet at 3 p.m. PT Sunday in Indianapolis.
Theyve beaten just about everybody theyve played in the last two years, Ray said of the Huskies. You know who they havent beaten? The Beavers. The Beavers are gonna do it.
Predictions and faith and hope aside, Tuesday was about recognizing the Beavers for all they have accomplished, in recent years but also in the past few weeks and especially this past week, when they beat DePaul and Baylor at the regional final in Baylors backyard.
Theres a lot to celebrate today, Ray said, turning over the microphone to Vice President/Athletic Director Todd Stansbury.
The AD said he teared up while processing the womens basketball success and turnaround during his drive from Portland to Corvallis on Tuesday, in part because one of the things that makes this place so special is you, a reference to the OSU fans.
We are located in the best college town in America, Stansbury said, and its because of you we can recruit great young women like them.
Stansbury called making the Final Four a pretty phenomenal accomplishment because of where it all started six years ago. Youre usually rebuilding something thats there, but this was the total creation of a new program, from the ground up. I remember having some conversations early on, when Scott first came here, about whether we were going to have to petition the NCAA to take a season off, because we didnt have a team.
So this is incredibly miraculous.
Stansbury said Rueck had a vision of what could happen. And then he got these seniors here to see the vision with him, and they have set the foundation for what will be the West Coast dynasty in womens basketball, Stansbury said.
Then it was Ruecks turn to address the masses.
To drive up and see this is unbelievable, he said. This has been quite a 24 hours, a constant build-up to this moment.
This doesnt surprise me. I knew, if we built a team that plays the right way, this place is going to go crazy. Were living the dream right now. Theres nothing like the first time to do something like this.
Rueck looked back at Monday nights battle with Baylor.
We knew we were going into the lions den, he said, against a team that is used to winning every game, against a coach used to winning 90 percent of her games, against a fan base that is rabid. We knew we were going to face huge adversity. We knew that (Baylor) team was going to make a run. I didnt know if we could win in that place, but they got our best effort, and this team made the plays.
We were at the edge four fouls on Ruth and Deven (Hunter). But the players just looked at each other in the huddle and said, No, this is ours. They kept their composure.
Defensive stops ended up winning that game, and you know great defensive teams are selfless teams, there are no stars, everybodys equal.
The incredible thing is this team is so resilient. They have prepared themselves so well.
What you saw was a team that has each others back, every second, every moment, and has a belief in themselves. Its what every great group, organization, family or business has. Theres a trust thats so deep.
Certainly you have to have talent, and we have a lot of basketball talent. But this team at its core has a trust and a friendship, and thats whats made them who they are.
This thing started in Italy in August, and theyre not even close to wanting to be done.
Rueck ended his remarks with special words for the Oregon State fans.
From the bottom of my heart and our hearts, thank you for what you do for us and how special you make this for us, he said.
Ron Callan, the Oregon State womens baskeball play-by-play broadcaster, then brought out some of the key players for individual interviews.
Callan had Hamblin step forward and noted how she seemed to not want to let go of the regional trophy.
Ive been keeping my grip nice and tight on it, Hamblin said.
A little later, though, Pac-12 player of the year Jamie Weisner, the Beavers star senior guard, admitted that she had slept with the trophy, sort of, last night in Texas.
Yeah, it was in the bed next to me, she said. I was just admiring it.
Weisner said reaching this moment has been such a journey. Each year has been a progression. Im just so proud of this team and to be a part of it. Its hard to even put it in words. Its incredible.
Hunter, the senior forward from McNary High, noted that as freshmen, we had a goal to make the Final Four. Its not a dream anymore.
Its a reality now that Oregon State will play UConn for a spot in next Tuesdays national championship game.
Its an amazing opportunity, Hunter said.
Its a dream come true, concurred junior guard Sydney Wiese, who hit several clutch free throws on Monday night, but theres work to do, and still a lot of basketball to be played.
Getting to play UConn?
Honestly, I wouldnt have it any other way, said junior Gabby Hanson, one of the heroes of the Baylor game for both her offense and her defense.
Theyre well-known for their discipline, Hamblin said of the Connecticut players, but thats what were also known for, so it will be an interesting matchup.