MINNEAPOLIS — Art and Kate Soucy have been following the University of Connecticut women’s basketball program for decades, watching first-hand as head coach Geno Auriemma helped establish one of the greatest dynasties in college sports history.
This weekend, Art and Kate traveled from the Hartford area to Minneapolis to watch the Huskies make their 14th straight Final Four appearance, an annual accomplishment they admit they’ve taken for granted at times.
“The women’s team has been dominating the NCAA for so long,” Art Soucy said. “It’s a real sense of pride for Connecticut.”
But the Final Four still seems different this year.
Paige Bueckers, Minnesota's hometown hero from Hopkins High School, is the reason why.
“It’s just… over the top,” Kate Soucy said. “I’m so excited for her.”
Her husband added: “You feel like you’re watching history.”
Now imagine how the Minnesota folks feel about Bueckers playing in the Final Four in her home state.
Bueckers, a sophomore and the reigning Associated Press Women’s Player of the Year, has inspired a whole generation of athletes across the state, rising from prominence at Hopkins High to the highest level of college basketball.
Hours before tip-off on Friday, young Minnesotans flooded the Target Center with UConn attire, despite having no previous allegiance to the program before Bueckers arrived last year.
Sam Schmitz of Verndale, Minn., entered the gates of the arena with her daughter and young niece, who were both sporting No. 5 Bueckers jerseys. Schmitz said the girls received the jerseys as Christmas gifts, with the hope that Connecticut would advance to the Final Four in Minneapolis.
That dream came true, after Bueckers powered the Huskies to an Elite Eight victory last week over North Carolina State.
“The other night, in double overtime, they were watching and cheering, and this is just a bonus to see her on this stage,” Schmitz said. “A couple of weeks ago they were at State Basketball watching, aspiring to play at Williams Arena. Now, they can aspire to maybe play in the Final Four someday.”
That’s true for the high school basketball community in Minnesota as well.
Mackenzie Berg, a St. Michael-Albertville junior, said she’s long admired Bueckers’ style of play and work ethic.
“I feel like she never gives up,” Berg said. “Even if she has a bad game, she’s always giving 100% the whole time.”
Back home in Connecticut, Art and Kate Soucy have noticed the same traits in Bueckers when they’ve had the opportunity to watch the Huskies practice.
“She practices every bit as hard – if not harder – in the gym as she does during the game. She’s a blessing for Connecticut,” Art said. “UConn has been blessed with some really, really great players, but I tell you, I’ve got her right at the top of the list.”
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