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Donald Trump welcomes 18 NCAA championship teams to White House

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump on Friday congratulated college sports champions at the White House, hailing the players as "great athletes."

The White House said 18 NCAA attended the reception; South Carolina's women's basketball team declined the invitation.

Teams including the Texas A&M women's equestrian team, Penn State women's rugby team, and the Washington's women's rowing team gathered around the White House grounds to be recognized for their championships.

Trump posed for photos with the players throughout the White House and then sent them off to the Oval Office for a quick tour. At one point, the president playfully got into a wrestling pose with members of the Penn State men's team. Chatting with the Ohio State men's volleyball team, he popped a colorful volleyball into the air.

When Trump spotted Maryland lacrosse attacker Dylan Maltz wearing a blue Trump '16 tie, he pumped his hand and brought him to the front of the team's riser near the South Lawn. "Look at that, folks," Trump said, holding up the tie to journalists.

In the Red Room of the White House, the NRA-backed Trump greeted the West Virginia's co-ed rifle team by saying, "We saved the Second Amendment!" Then he asked, "So who is the best shot?" At another point, joined by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Trump bowed his head in prayer along with members of the Oklahoma softball team.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said after her team won the NCAA title in April that it would go to the White House if invited because "it's what it stands for. It's what national champions do." She told The Associated Press in late September that she hadn't received an invite and "that spoke volumes."

In a statement Thursday night, Staley said the team did end up hearing from the White House but chose not to attend.

"As I've been saying since our practices for this season started, all of our focus is on the season ahead," she said. "The only invitation we are thinking about is to the 2018 NCAA tournament."

Trump sparred with professional athletes earlier this year when NBA star Stephen Curry said his championship-winning Golden State Warriors didn't wish to meet with Trump. The feud erupted as Trump was lambasting NFL athletes for kneeling in protest during the national anthem.

North Carolina's men's basketball team said earlier this year it could not agree on a date for a visit. Trump hosted the Air Force Academy football team at the White House for a Commander-in-Chief's trophy ceremony in May and the champion Clemson Tigers football team in June.

Other champion teams at the White House on Friday included: Oklahoma men's golf, women's and men's gymnastics, Maryland women's lacrosse, Virginia men's tennis, Arizona State women's triathlon, Florida baseball, McKendree women's bowling, Texas A&M men's indoor track and field and Utah skiing.