The Westmont women's basketball team received a heroes' welcome as the national champions returned to campus on Wednesday afternoon.
Fresh off the team's historic title victory in Kentucky on Tuesday night, hundreds of students, alumni, faculty members and administrators came out to greet the champions. The crowd rushed the bus to welcome back the winning Warriors.
"It was fun, I think, just to see this incredible pride, incredible sense of appreciation for the dedication and perseverance they have shown this entire year," said Gayle Beebe, Westmont College president.
"It's so surreal to me. It's well-deserved and we worked really hard for it and I am really happy to bring it home," said Esther Lee, a Westmont basketball player.
The homecoming was exciting for the fans but the players were shocked to see the huge crowd waiting for them as the bus arrived on campus.
Before they got back home, the women relaxed on the bus after their victory.
"I think it's just really amazing to think about how out of 32 teams we were the only one that came out with the win, and it was just really exciting to think about that we were the champions. It's just unbelievable. We're all on cloud nine," said Kelsie Sampson with a smile.
The team had had almost no rest since their triumph, but with their NAIA Division 1 title in the bag, the women forgot all about their sleep deprivation.
As the team members traveled back, hundreds on campus got ready to greet them. They were just happy with the dozen or so fans who showed up to the game.
"We had about 10, 15 of our fans, so it was nice to see the energy in the gym," said Gracie Boelsems.
But that number multiplied in Montecito. The crowd took the team's breath away, and the win finally sank in.
"Honestly, the whole school's heart and soul are invested in this team and it's just, like such a great thing to see them win because they're awesome, all of them -- as people, as players. It's wonderful," said Michael Cahalan, a Westmont student.
Some of the students told NewsChannel 3 they couldn't be happier that the spotlight is on the women's team. They are also glad that now Westmont College is known across the country.
"I am so excited! Because we're the number one NAIA women's basketball team in the nation. Let's go! That's awesome!" exclaimed student Nathan Beck.
It's been 10 years since Westmont celebrated a nation title. In 2003 women's soccer team won the championship but a Warrior basketball team has never brought home a trophy like this.
Westmont College has won a total of eight NAIA national titles but this was the first one in basketball. The Warriors ended the season winning 22 of its final 23 games.