Sweat and tears rolled down Ariel Atkins’ and Brooke McCarty’s faces.
The then-freshman guards had just barely made it through the team’s toughest practice of the 2014-15 season. Things hadn’t gone well for the two.
“We didn’t know if tomorrow was going to come,” Atkins said.
“Ever,” McCarty added.
The pair, accompanied by fellow freshmen Diani Akigbogun and Tasia Foman, retreated to Atkins’ room to regroup themselves. They stayed up until 3 a.m. venting their frustrations and consoling each other.
By 3:30 a.m., the tears had turned to laughter. They had another workout at 6 a.m.
“That moment, for me, was just kind of a bond that could never be broken,” Atkins said. “If I didn’t have anybody here at UT that I could count on, I knew that I could count on them and they would have my back. And we did really well at the workout the next day.”
Four years, 6,678 combined minutes and 2,888 combined points later, Atkins and McCarty are still counting on each other. They’ve led the Longhorns to 103 wins, three Sweet 16 appearances and an Elite Eight berth. Now, the seniors prepare for their last regular season game on the 40 Acres.
Texas head coach Karen Aston recruited the two to be tone-setters for her program. They made up half of Aston’s No. 10-ranked recruiting class in 2014. At the time, the Longhorns hadn’t reached the NCAA tournament’s Round of 16 in 10 years.
The Longhorns made it there in Atkins’ and McCarty’s first season.
“So much of the conversation during the recruiting process was the buy-in of wanting to get the respect back for our program,” Aston said. “We wanted to be known for hard work, the way we represent ourselves off the court, in the classroom, and the best thing I can say is these guys hit it out of the park.”
Fellow senior Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau transferred to Texas in 2016 from Gulf Coast State College. Atkins and McCarty helped Caron-Goudreau adapt to her new team and made sure the forward felt like a true part of their class.
The first thing Caron-Goudreau’s teammates taught her was Clark Field. Atkins and McCarty warned her about the conditioning drills the Longhorns went through at the on-campus park to prepare for the upcoming season. Caron-Goudreau marveled at her teammates’ work ethic and eventually learned how to match it.
“I knew that was going to be the hardest part,” Caron-Goudreau said. “Just the way they approach a game as well as the way they approach things outside of basketball. I’ve learned a lot from them.”
Atkins and McCarty have learned plenty from their time at Texas as well.
“I thought that I had it all figured out,” McCarty said. “But, turns out that I really, absolutely knew nothing. I think I’ve learned how to grow. I’ve learned how to deal with adversity. I’ve learned how to try to pull my teammates along. I’ve learned areas that I still need to improve on. And so, I think it’s just been a big learning curve for me.”
No. 7 Texas’ (23–5, 14–3 Big 12) senior night against Oklahoma (16–12, 11–6 Big 12) tips off at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Caron-Goudreau has been ruled out indefinitely with a bruised left wrist and is unlikely to play. She played in 50 games and started in 26 during her two seasons as a Longhorn.
No matter how the rest of the season unfolds, Aston said this class has already met her expectations.
“They don’t need any validation from anyone,” Aston said. “They are not only great players, but they’re great people.”