Euphoria felt locally over the Shockers’ Elite Eight win lingered into the early morning hours Sunday as the Wichita State University men’s basketball team rolled up to Charles Koch Arena.
Cheers and applause from about 75 fans exploded when the red bus honked twice, acknowledging the 4 a.m. homecoming.
When head coach Gregg Marshall stepped off the bus and hoisted the West Regional Champion trophy above his head, the crowd shouted “Good job, coach!” Chants of “Final Four! Final Four!” followed.
Fans started filing toward the eastern side of the arena around 3:15 a.m., just minutes before players landed at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport after Saturday’s 70-66 victory against second-seeded Ohio State.
Bundled in a sweatshirt borrowed from a friend, 21-year-old Katy Weidner cheered and shouted as the players filed one-by-one off the bus.
“I’m freezing but it’s been fun,” Weidner of Wichita said of the gathering. “We heard the Shockers were coming home and we wouldn’t have missed it.”
Fans wore black-and-gold T-shirts and jackets emblazoned with messages like “Play Angry,” “I Got My City Behind Me” and “Go Shockers!” – encouragement to players to take home another win during the Final Four.
A few held signs that read “Keep calm and Shock on” or “Final 4-Bound.” Others shouted “Atta boy!” and “Let’s go, Shocks!” to the team.
When someone sang the first few words to “War,” a fight song introduced by the pep band and a quick hit among fans, the crowd joined.
Marshall chanted along, smiling, with his fist high in the air. Later he likened the fans to family.
“The love that this program is shown by these folks it’s constant,” he said. “You can always count on it.”
After a night celebrating at the Pumphouse with friends, 25-year-old Wichitan Bo Haertl decided to welcome the team.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we wanted to be a part of. I mean how many times do you see Wichita State in the Final Four, right?” he said. “We were up and at it already. So we decided to come greet them.”
His pal, Adam Pusateri, agreed, saying the “small town” spirit of the gathering spurred his 3 a.m. trip to campus.
“Everyone roots for the underdog,” 25-year-old Pusateri, of Wichita, said. “It’s cool to see Wichita State make a mark.”
After pats on the back and welcoming handshakes, the players – exhausted but smiling – grabbed their bags to head home.
Senior forward Carl Hall said the No. 9-seeded team is expected to leave midweek to prepare for its Final Four matchup, set this coming Saturday in Atlanta, Ga. The Shockers will play Duke or Louisville.
Of Sunday’s early morning reception, Hall said: “It just goes to show how the fans all are – how supportive they are.”