Every couple of seasons, there is a team in any genre of sports who has a magical postseason run that ends up becoming a household fodder or name in a particular town.
This past spring, the UTEP Women’s basketball team did just that for the city of El Paso.
A triumphed 10-0 start to the season, led by El Paso’s own and now pro-basketball player Kayla Thornton set the tone for a special season.
But it was not just Kayla Thornton that led the charge for the Miners, two fellow seniors, Kelli Willingham, and Kristine Vitola, who combined racked up a program record 90-plus wins during their four year tenure were instrumental in the Miners deep postseason run this season.
After a 23-6 regular season, the Miners entered the C-USA Tournament in March as a possible hometown favorite to grab the NCAA Tournament automatic bid, but fell to Southern Miss. in the semi-finals, leading them to the first WNIT bid in program history.
As disappointing as the loss in the C-USA Tournament was for Coach Keitha Adams’ group, one last chance to play in the Haskins Center inspired the ladies on their magical WNIT run.
UTEP dominated their first four rounds in WNIT, winning each game by 7-point or more margins that included two Pac-12 teams, as the buzz, and fan support were rising to all-time high for the program.
For a winning hungry, passionate sports town, El Paso rode the wave of the ladies great run by breaking WNIT attendance records, drawing WNIT Elite Eight record of 10,000 plus, then selling out the final four and championship games in record amounts of time. People that I work with at my regular job were rushing to buy tickets and asking to leave work early to get in line, something I would never have expected from those who were fired up for a chance to cheer on a UTEP team to a championship.
Fans lined up about 30-minutes or even longer outside the Don for each game, showing El Paso’s true love for their Miners. The championship game against Rutgers was sold out in less than two hours after the Miners WNIT Final Four win over South Dakota State.
Adams uses the same on and off court principles legendary Coach Don Haskins implemented on the men’s side of the floor, and the same defensive, hard nose disciplined style Haskins preached to Adams when she first took over the Women’s side 13 years ago, made El Paso fall in love with this team lead by three special K’s.
After a media, and public whirlwind for the UTEP Women’s basketball team that followed their WNIT run, its back to the hardwood for another season with a solid recruiting class waiting in the wings, leading to a new season that should see more fans in the seats, and a bright future for the program who despite falling to Rutgers in WNIT championship, is on the rise on the national level of Women’s college basketball.