ASHLAND — The Ashland University women’s basketball team received a warm, raucous welcome from their proud hometown on Monday.

The No. 1-ranked Eagles, still riding high from a 78-67 NCAA Division II national championship win in Dallas against Minnesota-Duluth, landed in Cleveland around 12:40 p.m. on Monday and made their way back to Ashland in a charter bus. Fans lined along Main Street and Claremont Avenue to welcome them home.

Saturday’s victory marked the team’s 37th win this season — a perfect 37-0 record — and the program’s third national championship.

Elated fans waved flags, cheered and shook purple and gold pom poms. Main Street was decorated with purple and gold balloons. And when the bus reached city hall on Claremont Avenue, Ashland Mayor Matt Miller, surrounded by American flags and buoyed by Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” greeted them.

“Just a few of your closest Ashland friends joined you this afternoon to say how proud we are of you,” Miller said over a public speaker.

He then referenced his “practice” session with Hallie Heidemann the week before the title game.

“Hallie, I just want you to know, I think that little extra practice, that game of P-I-G, paid off,” he said, prompting laughter in the crowd and adding the team did an “outstanding job.”

The mayor also offered kudos to head coach Kari Pickens for the being the first woman to win the national championship title as a player (in 2013), as an assistant coach (in 2017) and as head coach.

“History in the making all over the place,” he said.

Melanie Monagon, a professional race car driver of Ashland, stood out in front of city hall along Claremont Avenue waving a big purple flag as the team’s bus drove by.

“As an athlete myself, there’s nothing better than the pride of winning and having your hometown support you. These girls worked hard, they deserve it and we love them,” she said.

A sea of purple formed down the road in front of Kate’s Gymnasium, where hundreds of AU fans waited for the bus to arrive. When it finally pulled in, the crowd let out a deafening cheer while the Eagles streamed out of the bus.

AU grad student Kendal Meyer, who also serves as the university’s Assistant Director of Alumni and Parent Engagement, was there waiting to greet the team she’d been following since her first year as an undergrad at AU in 2018.

“Ashland just is really special to me, obviously being an alumni and a staff member. So it just felt like it was really important to come and show these ladies some love because they really did accomplish something really special, especially this being their third time doing it,” Meyer said.

AU’s former Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Mike Hupfer, was also waiting to welcome the women’s team home. He said Pickens’ stellar performance as a player at AU 10 years ago is what made him realize how “interesting” women’s basketball is and he’s been following them ever since.

“They’re such a special team that we’ve always felt a lot about, and it’s a great way to celebrate Ashland in the spotlight,” he said. “It’s so joyful to be celebrating something like this and not being in a spotlight because we have a tornado or a flood or some trouble like that.”

A few minutes into the celebration, Ashland City Schools superintendent Steve Paramore and board of education president John Teevan joined the throng of fans to offer their congratulations for the team just down the road from Ashland High School.

“It’s an extremely awesome example that this team sets on not only being committed to excellence, but being committed to the community,” Paramore said.

“And if you notice, all of this gathering doesn’t happen unless you understand the importance of the community, and they’ve known that from day one.”

Watch Joe Lyons’ live video below of the team’s escort through Ashland.

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