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 Monday, December 9, 2002 22:02 EST

Fans turn out to welcome victorious squad home

[Associated Press]

PORTLAND, Ore. -- More than 100 people crowded into the lobby of the University of Portland's student union Monday to welcome home the champions of the NCAA Women's College Cup.

A brass band played and the crowd cheered as the Lady Pilots filed onto a small stage set up in the lobby for the occasion.

``It's great to be home!'' one of the girls told the boisterous crowd.

Portland beat Santa Clara 2-1 in sudden-death overtime on Sunday in Austin, Texas when sophomore Christine Sinclair scored on a rebound from her own kick.

The victory was particularly sweet for the Pilots, who had played in the NCAA semifinals six times, but never won the title.

Sinclair, who scored 10 goals in the NCAA tournament, netted her 25th and 26th goals of the season in the final game. She was selected the College Cup's most valuable offensive player.

On Monday, the Rev. David Tyson, the school's president, congratulated the team on their victories.

``I thought, 'This is poetry -- U.P., national champions,'' he said.

He also read a letter from U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, D-Ore., saying President Bush was looking forward to welcoming the team to the White House.

Coach Clive Charles, who has led the Pilots since 1989, recognized the contributions from his assistant coaches.

``None of this would have been possible without these people,'' said Charles, who also coaches the Portland men's soccer team. ``It would be a lonely trip back if there were no one at the airport or here to share it with. Our job now is to bring back another one.''

Assistant coach Bill Irwin also credited supporters with contributing to the team's 20-4-1 season record.

``You turn up on a Saturday or Sunday and drive us to win,'' Irwin said. ``Keep coming, and we'll keep doing it.''

A modest Sinclair took the microphone last.

``Like everyone else said, it's amazing to play in front of you all. Like Clive said, we'll hope to bring back another one next year,'' she said.

UP groundskeeper Jim Haines said he couldn't miss the rally.

``I've been watching them struggle for 20 years,'' he said. ``To see them finally win the championship was like getting the missing piece to the puzzle.''

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