NORMAN — Abi Olajuwon and Joanna McFarland led the parade of Sooners up the Lloyd Noble Center ramp and through the small but jubilant gathering of fans. Amanda Thompson raised a triumphant fist. Carlee Roethlisberger high-fived a lucky soul. Sherri Coale hugged a familiar face. The pep band played. The pom girls danced. And when the charter bus honked as it headed toward the airport Thursday afternoon, the fans whooped and hollered, waved and smiled. It was a good day in Soonerville. Oklahoma is going to the Women’s Final Four. The entire Sooner Nation should thank its lucky stars for these gals. They haven’t just earned the right to go to San Antonio and play for a national championship. They haven’t just put together a magical season despite difficulty and adversity. They have been a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy time for OU athletics. This has been a tough year for the crimson and cream. The football season was a disappointment. The men’s basketball season was a fiasco. Now, the athletic department is investigating reports that Sooner center Tiny Gallon received $3,000 from a financial adviser. For a school still on probation for major NCAA rules violations, there could be more bad news in the offing. There could be more program penalties. There could be more ugly headlines. OU is already on a short leash. If the NCAA yanks on it again for men’s basketball violations, every program will feel the pain. Yet as the women’s basketball team left for San Antonio and the Final Four, no one seemed to be thinking about any of that. More than a dozen athletic department officials gathered near the team bus, smiling and talking in the afternoon sun. Joe Castiglione had a similar look about him Tuesday night as he basked in the glow of the Sooners’ Elite Eight victory. He smiled while he watched the players and coaches celebrate on the Sprint Center court. "How hard is it to get to this point?” he asked. He wasn’t really expecting an answer, but here’s one anyway — it’s unbelievably hard to survive four must-win games in the NCAA Tournament, to play with great energy and high intensity in each game, to triumph even as the opponents get tougher and the stakes get higher. But here’s the thing — it’s been even harder than that for these Sooners. Sure, this is the first season without Courtney and Ashley Paris, but everyone knew they would eventually graduate and the Sooners would be without them. The coaches planned for it. The players prepared for it. What no one planned or prepared for was the season-ending knee injury to Whitney Hand. That fateful November day, the Sooners lost their top returning scorer, their best outside shooting threat and one of the biggest rays of sunshine you’ll ever see wearing a basketball uniform. Still, this team found a way not only to survive but also to thrive. And the Sooners have done it with class and dignity, hustle and tenacity. Watch this bunch play, and you see that they respect the game and love each other. That’s why Amanda Thompson busts her backside to snag every rebound that falls within her zip code. Why Danielle Robinson flings her 115-pound body into the lane even though players twice her size stand between her and the goal. Why Nyeshia Stevenson takes one big shot after another and why she makes them. Then, when they talk about their road to the Final Four, they say things like, "We get to spend more time together” and "We just don’t want it to end” and "I wish there were a million more games for us to play” and "You’re going to give your left arm and your last breath to make it happen.” These Sooners are a feel-good bunch with a feel-good story. Considering how things have gone in Soonerville lately, the Sooner Nation should feel great about that.