HARTFORD, Conn. -- Thousands of basketball fans braved a spring snowstorm and freezing temperatures Sunday to cheer on the national champion Connecticut women's team as the Huskies were paraded through the streets of the state capital.
And at a post-parade rally, coach Geno Auriemma promised they'll do it again next year. He isn't losing any starters off the championship team. The only two seniors, Stacy Hansmeyer and Paige Sauer, saw limited action this season.
"We'll be back here next year with a third one. I promise you that," Auriemma told the crowd.
He expanded on his prediction later inside the warmth of the state Capitol lobby.
"The goal is to win a national championship, and if everybody stays really healthy, there's no reason why we shouldn't," he said. "(The players) know they have the ability to do it. It's something that should be accomplished. It's within reach."
Auriemma and his players rode through the streets bundled up and huddled atop a flatbed truck which slowly made its way along the 1«-mile parade route as the fans paid homage to their conquering heroes.
Still, the reception on every street, on every corner, was a warm one.
The players waved back and autographed balls, pennants, T-shirts and caps tossed to them by members of the adoring throng.
"I got Paige Sauer, I got Sue Bird and Stacy (Hansmeyer) on one ball," said an excited 11-year-old Eli Peterson as the team tossed the ball back to him.
Although it was 32 degrees in Hartford, the fans didn't let the cold weather chill their enthusiasm.
"I have on 25 layers," joked Connie Christian, of Harwinton, who stood huddled with friends beside Bushnell Park.
Her friend, Diane Rozenski, of Plymouth, shivered as the wind blew in chilly gusts. "They're terrific. They're all worth it," she declared.
The governor's foot guard kicked off the parade with a rousing rendition of "Frosty The Snowman."
National Guardsmen and members of the Capitol Police came to the aid of some of the Huskies who hadn't quite prepared for the frigid weather, supplying them with gloves and writing implements for autograph signing.
Earlier, Gov. John Rowland admitted he had cried when he saw Auriemma hugging his players after they won the championship in Philadelphia by crushing the Tennessee Volunteers, 71-52 in a game that saw UConn leading by as many as 26 points in the second half.
Connecticut finished the season with a 36-1 record and avenged the only loss, a one-point decision to Tennessee, in the championship game. It was the Huskies' second title. Their first title capped a 35-0 season with a win over -- who else -- Tennessee.
Lorraine Taylor, a grandmother of seven from Hartford, walked most of the chilly route waving a large UConn beach towel.
"I'm out here to stay, no matter what. They're my girls," she said.
It was the second victory parade in as many years through Hartford. The UConn men were honored last year for their national title. That parade drew more than 250,000 fans, but frigid weather kept Sunday's turnout to about 30,000 spectators, according to estimates from city and Capitol police.
Several hundred fans huddled on the Capitol lawn for the post-parade rally and team introductions. Sauer, the 6-foot-5 center out of Midwest City, Okla., spoke on behalf of the team.
"You guys are awesome. We couldn't have done it without you," she told fans, then turned to her teammates and Auriemma, "Coach, I love you and I'm going to miss you. And for the players...thanks for the memories."
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