THOMASVILLE -- The 2004 NAIA softball champions from Thomas University returned to their campus Thursday after capturing the first national title in school history.

The return was made extra special considering the reception that awaited the Lady Night Hawks.

The TU softball team was greeted by a group of about 200 friends and family members waiting to see and congratulate their national champions.

"I think it's huge," said Thomasville Mayor Rick Singletary. "Anytime you win a national championship, it's a big deal. People I've talked to are really excited."

The team was escorted to campus by a fire truck and a police car. Once there, many players couldn't express the emotions they felt.

"It kind of seems surreal," shortstop Stephanie Dixon said. "It reminds you you just won the national championship."

"You can't put it into words. It's unreal," third baseman Gillian Loughead said.

"I can't describe it," assistant coach Kristyn Ludvik said. "It's something hard to describe."

Ludvik was a pitcher on the Lady Night Hawks two years prior to serving as the team's student assistant this season.

"Those were two totally different years," Ludvik said of her TU campaigns. "This year was far beyond that."

Tracy Avery pitched the final two innings of the season. Returning to the campus the way the team did was a great experience for the senior right-hander.

"It's cool. It's nice having police coming in front of you," Avery said. "I'm glad I came to a small town. Everyone is just so happy for us."

The team was given a proclamation by Singletary, who spoke about how this year can serve as a springboard as the team prepares to enter the real world.

"Use this experience to push yourself to be successful in life," Singletary said.

TU's Executive Vice-President Bob Bohman presided over the program and noted the extreme difference in the size of enrollment between TU (850) and its championship opponent Simon Fraser (22,000). This reminded him of a quote from Mark Twain that summed up the Lady Night Hawks.

"'It's not the size of the dog in the fight. It's the size of the fight in the dog,'" Bohman said.

An emotional head coach Thomas Macera addressed his team, eight of which were seniors.

"It really gets to you," said Macera, who gave each member of his team a hug after the ceremony.

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