STORRS, Connecticut — The UConn Women’s Basketball team faces off in the Final Four Friday night and their littlest teammate is on her way to Minneapolis to cheer on her big sisters.
The 9-year-old Plainville girl is battling a rare blood disease, making her one of the toughest and most important members of the Huskies.
"Surprise! You're coming to the Final Four, we can't wait to see you!" said the UConn Women's Basketball team in a video sent to Daniela Ciriello.
After learning of her big surprise, Ciriello screamed in a video captured on Zoom.
Friday morning at Bradley International Airport, Ciriello practiced her cheers for the team.
"Defense, defense, defense, hands up," cheered Ciriello. "I’m really excited to get to the game because I hope that I can cheer the girls on so they can win."
Ciriello has been an honorary husky for four years now, through good times and bad, Ciriello's dedication to the huskies has never wavered.
FOX61 caught up with Ciriello last year ahead of the Final Four match-up.
Ciriello battles a rare blood disease called Beta-Thalassemia Major. It causes her body to produce unhealthy red blood cells, requiring blood transfusions every three weeks. When she's not feeling well, cheering on her teammates helps make her feel better.
"It’s amazing, everything she goes through with what she deals with Thalassemia, it’s really nice to just get away and not think about it and get to the games and cheer them on," said Ciriello's mother, Nicole.
Ciriello lights up around her teammates and coaches and the huskies do the same around her. They bring out the best in each other, like sisters.
"They’re like family to us now it’s been four years and we’re very close to all of them. We're super excited, it means so much to us we’re just really overwhelmed actually," said Nicole.
This is all possible through Team Impact, an organization that matches children with serious illnesses to sports teams across the country.
"When you look at the relationship Daniela and her family have built, it symbolizes what team impact is. I think about when Dorka Juhasz was just injured and Daniela sent her a message, this is what friends do and this is what a relationship is," said Lynn LaRocca with Team Impact.
The huskies' secret weapon is ready to bring her big smiles and energy to the court and regardless of the outcome of the game, Ciriello loves her sisters no matter what.
Lindsey Kane is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at Lkane@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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