COLUMBUS, Ohio – Many say that college marks the best four years of one's life, but for the Capital University women's basketball team its adventure across the pond to international lands may mark some of the best days within those four years. Rising seniors Annika Wachtman, Meredith Ovies and Chelsea Pla reflected on the team's trip to Spain, which included sightseeing, exploration, and a little bit of basketball on the side.
Every three years, the women's basketball program at Capital offers the opportunity for its student-athletes to visit an international destination for a cross-cultural experience, plus play various local basketball teams. Prior to the 2015-16 season, the team finalized its travel plans for Spain and the following July the majority of the team made the trip across the globe for an adventure.
"I think once we finalized everything it all became real and the excitement started to build up," said Annika Wachtman. "Once we got the itinerary, we got even more excited to get over there."
While basketball certainly served as one of the reasons for making the trip, the myriad of entertainment and educational opportunities made up a bulk of the journey. The trio of Meredith Ovies, Chelsea Pla and Wachtman explained that bicycling was not just a great physical activity to stay active and engaged but was also the preferred mode of transportation. Though cycling in urban versus rural areas provided different levels of anxiety, especially for those less than skilled on two wheels, it also provided some fantastic opportunities to see the sights.
The ladies also cited some of their own personal favorite sights, which included: the Pablo Picaso Museum, the Salvador Dali Museum, and Santiago Bernabeu Stadium – home of the Real Madrid football club.
Even with hundreds of cultural options, no trip is complete without the chance to shop, enjoy loads of good food and a trip to the beach. After a bout with some serious sunburn – before its scheduled basketball games, of course – the team focused on various delicious food options. Some favorites were tapas, paella, and a conveniently located gelato shop near the art museums.
Once the burns healed (at least to the point where fluid moving was possible) basketball came back into play. The Crusaders played three games in 10 days, two against club teams and one against a Spanish all-star team. European basketball rules presented nearly as many challenges as the opposition did.
Did you know that in the European women's game a player cannot be moving and catch a pass? You must be standing still to receive a pass.
Did you know that you do not have to wait for an official to give you the ball to restart play? The Crusaders learned this when the opposing teams sped by while they were resetting the defense.
Eventually, after many whistles and some initial frustration, the Purple and White made the necessary adjustments and won two of the three games played. The Spanish all-star team was comprised of women playing in other leagues or in the United States in some capacity, and provided the biggest challenge. Once down 12 points, Capital rebounded to make a game of it in the end despite falling two points short of a comeback. A second cross-culture experience occurred when Capital played a Swedish club team that happened to be in the area, which they defeated.
"It was weird because there were different rules and different languages, but at the end of the game everybody had the same love for the game. We all love the game of basketball," said Wachtman.
Ovies noted that one additional challenge was the inability to freely wash the team's uniforms whenever they wanted to, or in this case needed to. Ovies also threw teammate Sarah Juncker under the bus as having the most disgusting uniform by trip's end. (Sorry, Sarah.)
Unlike the normal grind of the Ohio Athletic Conference season in addition to mounds of coursework, the "work week" was far less stressed between games.
"We were a lot more relaxed," said Pla. "It was an opportunity to all be together and rely on each other because we were in such a different place. We were always sticking together and going [places] together in groups. You didn't have to be together, but we wanted to be together. During the season, we are all very focused on the job that we have to get done. There, we had time to experiment, enjoy each other, and it was more than just basketball. It was an experience together."
The travel party even got to know Head Coach Dixie Jeffers on a different level, too.
"You always see Coach [Jeffers] in 'job mode' or 'coaching mode' or 'administration mode', and it was good to see her just relax and enjoy," said Ovies.
Even with air conditioning being a scant delicacy in area gyms, terrible smelling jerseys and water bottles being consumed at accelerated rates, Ovies said, "I would do it again in a heartbeat."
Pla and Wachtman are no strangers to international travel and have plenty of destinations to compare to their experience in Spain.
Pla, in true travel critic form, reviewed her experience in Spain, "15-out-of-10, I would absolutely recommend!"
Wachtman, in a heartfelt tone, said, "Spain was the best experience … because I was with 15 of my best friends and we were out exploring the world together."