Last night, 17,135 fans poured through the turnstiles at Thompson-Boling Arena to support the top-ranked Lady Vols as they defeated Vandy, 70-66.
But more significantly, the people showed up en masse to honor four seniors fifth-year senior Kyra Elzy, injured star Tamika Catchings, All-American Semeka Randall and defensive stopper Kristen Ace Clement.
Despite the continual struggle of the men's basketball team and the resulting, disenfranchised fans, almost 18 thousand people came to support these four women who have embodied teamwork.
One by one, their profiles were played on the JumboTron. And one by one, each player's personal struggle was revealed, in addition to the lengths they have gone to conquer them.
Elzy, a graduate student since December of 1999, tore her ACL in her sophomore season. Unable to sufficiently rehab before the next season, she sat out the 1998-1999 season. At the beginning of last season, Elzy returned to the court.
Her return to the court was not littered with All-American nominations, but Elzy's role on the team is no less important. She was a leader and team player by example.
Clement is also no stranger to injury. Her high-profile injury was suffered under the glaring lights of the national championship. Demoted from her starting point position in the middle of last season, she overcame and helped her team fight its way to the Final Four in her hometown. Unfortunately, Clement's important night in Philly was never realized.
Her place, however, won't be forgotten. She'll be known and celebrated in the minds of fans as a tip-top defender and an unselfish athlete willing to give up personal glory for team success.
Randall is perhaps the most cheered Lady Vol. Her emotional intensity and all-out hustle have established her as a fan favorite. Randall has seen struggles of her own. Earlier this season, she went through a slow stretch, shooting 37% from the field. Fortunately, Randall found her game in time for the season's second half. Since South Carolina, her play has been exemplary.
If Randall is most-cheered for her intensity, Catchings holds the title of most-loved. When Catchings hit the court to be honored, there were few dry eyes in the building. Her do-everything style and ability to sacrifice her body for her team has set her apart.
In the end, that is perhaps what Catch will overcome. After tearing her ACL on Jan.15, her goal is to rehab and play again, if only for seconds before her career comes to a close.
Four Lady Vols stood at center court last night to be honored and celebrated for their accomplishments. At the finish, the message was clear the run isn't over yet. The goal is certain: another national championship and one more page in the history books for a class that seems destined to go out on top.