Fans started filing in early to welcome the Arizona Wildcats back from their historic run to the national championship game. People who had missed being able to cheer the team on all year were joined by the Tucson Mayor Regina Romero to celebrate what this group of women had accomplished and what is yet to come.
For two hours, they sat in the sun at Arizona Stadium on what was supposed to be the hottest day so far in Tucson this year. The Final Four game against Connecticut playing on the scoreboard kept them entertained as they waited for news that the bus had arrived after the Wildcats’ flight was delayed.
Eventually, the game went away and the bus appeared in its place as the fans cheered and the pep band welcomed the team into the stadium. As the team gathered on the podium, a member of the Tucson Police Department security detail brought a camera out to take his own photos of the occasion.
Brief remarks by President Robert Robbins, Athletic Director Dave Heeke, Mayor Romero and head coach Adia Barnes spoke to what the team has meant to the community and what the community support has meant to the team.
“Our hearts are full,” Barnes told the fans.
The fans’ hearts were full when senior and four-year captain Sam Thomas announced that she would be back to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility the NCAA has extended. With a top 20 class coming in, keeping Thomas to lead them into the next chapter was a salve for a program looking at life after Aari McDonald.
Twenty-one bangs on the drum—one from each member of the team, the coaching staff and the administration—celebrated the 21 wins in this pandemic-shortened season.
Then, it was all over. A player like no other would no longer wear the block A in competition, but, as the t-shirts on sale stated, McDonald left a legacy behind for those who will. What more can you ask for?