Friday November 19th: Day 1
Walking across the street to the STAC fitness center at 7:15 AM quickly brought back memories of morning preseason workouts. But today was different. Today, we were going to Hawaii. This time, instead of stretching and bands, I arrived to see a room full of excitement and anticipation. Even in the 40 degree weather we couldn't help but take a picture with our sunglasses on, wishing we were already on the beach. We had high expectations and hopes and were eager to begin our journey. Breakfast and lunch was handed out, luggage tags put on and with our bags packed, the team, coaches and other STAC administrators loaded on to the bus and headed to the airport.
After waiting on some long lines (and hoping my bag wasn't overweight), our entire group finally made it through to the terminal. Although we had a few hours before our flight, a coffee from Starbucks, some snacks and taking a bunch of pictures easily passed the time. I never really understood how long 11 and a half hours was until this flight. To pass the time we colored, took some more pictures, made bracelets, did some homework, watched several movies, played video games and slept. Even still, nothing could damper our moods. We had an opportunity to go to Hawaii and play a sport we loved. We knew that every bit of this trip (even the long flights) would be something we remembered.
The hustle and bustle of the Waikiki nightlife with the backdrop of Hawaiian mountains was something none of us had experienced. Yet, the long day of travel had taken its toll on all of us, so after a quick dinner and meeting, we all went to sleep looking forward to the fun-filled day at the beach that awaited us in the morning.
Saturday November 20th: Day 2
Jet Lag. I've always heard people talk about how much the time difference affects you, but I had no idea how true it was…until this morning. Coach Lusk sent us off last night with a warning of "Get some rest" but I don't think waking up at 5:30 a.m. was what she had in mind. Since we were up anyway, we decided to get an early start to our first day.
After Theresa joined me and Bri for a quick breakfast and shopping trip, we decided to start the day off by going parasailing. Shpresa and Sylvia (and Mr. Sloper) also decided to come. A van picked us up from our hotel and drove us to Hanauma Bay, one of the most beautiful spots on Oahu. After watching a quick safety video and a water taxi ride to the main boat, we were ready to go up in the air. First Bri and I went (with our waterproof camera along)…300 feet in the air and 1,000 feet of line from the boat really gives you some incredible views. Theresa and Spres went next, followed by Mr. Sloper. When we got back to our hotel, I already felt like we'd been here for days.
The beach was only a block away. Between the crystal-clear, turquoise water and the unreal visual of Diamond Head (a dormant volcano, now home to one of the most famous volcanic craters in the world), we all felt as if we were living in a postcard. Briana Cook, Sara, Krystal and Tatyana had already been at the beach for a few hours and rented a surf board. Although we thought it would be easy (we're basketball players after all, how hard could it really be?) all of us tried, and failed, to stand up. Even when there weren't any waves. Laying in the sun after coming from almost winter in New York was great. It felt like summer again. We stayed on the beach for most of the day with Coach Kershaw and Coach Colleen and then walked back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.
Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville provided an interesting and fun setting for our meal (and the food was pretty good too). Once again, both the long day and the jet lag was catching up, and we had an early morning practice to get ready for. So even though we had a great time on the beach, the thing we were looking forward to the most at 9 PM was definitely our beds.
Sunday November 21st: Day
After a day at the beach yesterday, we had an early wake up for outdoor practice. We got in our vans and traveled to a local court. Practicing in gyms in the middle of winter is completely different from the practice we had today. By 8:00 am, with the familiar sounds of basketballs hitting the court, we were running through plays in 75 degree weather with Diamond Head in the background.
After practice (and a quick jump in the ocean) we all met in the lobby to head to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve to go snorkeling and relax on the beach. The views were gorgeous. Betw een the blue water, white sand and palm trees...we were in paradise. Being able to snorkel and see a multitude of sea life (including an awesome tie-dye fish) was an incredible experience.
Bri, Theresa, Colleen, Coach Kershaw, Mr. Sloper and I decided to go for a scenic drive around the mountains of Oahu down the Windward Coast. We thought the beaches of Waikiki were beautiful, but the beaches and rocks of the coast were breathtaking. The ocean, with outlines of islands in the distance, was spread out in front of us and mist-topped mountains were behind. We all stood in awe of the incredible display of nature that we were watching; none of us could believe we were actually here.
We finally got back to the hotel and decided to explore Waikiki a little more. Our hotel was adjacent to the International Marketplace, a maze-like shopping center that featured small carts with everything from clothing to pearls straight from the oyster. We spent a couple of hours just looking at all of the interesting things to buy. Bri, Theresa, Coach Colleen and I had dinner at California Pizza Kitchen and were seated right next to Briana C. and Tatyana.
Once again, the sun, snorkeling and overall long day had worn us out. Tomorrow is our first practice in a gym, traveling to the North Shore and a real Hawaiian luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center. We have plenty to look forward to, and knew none of it would be much fun tired, so after dinner we headed back to the hotel to get some rest.
Monday November 22nd: Day 4
We began our day with a scenic ride up to the North Shore where we would spend the rest of our day. We arrived at BYU-Hawaii to find a much bigger and different gym then we were used to. We practiced hard for two hours to get familiar with the court and then showered to get ready to head to the North Shore beaches. With lunch eaten and sunscreen applied we got back into the vans. Although the surf competition we were planning on seeing was over, we still got some amazing views of the northern coast and Waimea Bay.
We also made a pit stop at Turtle Bay Resort to pick up some of our group. This was a beautiful hotel that gave us some incredible views of the big waves. We then headed back to the Polynesian Cultural Center t o experience many different cultures. Theresa, Colleen, Bri and I took a canoe ride through Samoa, Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Tonga. Others watched a tree climbing demonstration, how to peel a coconut and that is provides not only juice but milk too. This provided both an interesting and educational view of the many different islands in Polynesia. Bri and I tried Poi, a Hawaiian staple starch, eaten with almost every meal, which resembles paste in texture. It wasn't very good, and the texture was really strange. Finally, it was time to get ready to eat at a Hawaiian luau. We experienced traditional Hawaiian dance and entertainment. We also got to see an actual pig being cooked in a pit, which is something few of us had ever seen before. The food was delicious, different and new.
After dinner, we had a chance to walk around some more, through the different villages before the show we were seeing began. The show was called HÄ: Breath of Life and it featured dancing from all of the different Polynesian cultures, with a storyline about the importance of life and love. The show culminated in a fire performance that was unbelievable. The speed and precision in which the dancers spun and twirled and threw the sticks with fire on both ends was insane and entertaining to watch.
After the show we got on our way back to the hotel. We had had a long, activity-filled day and needed rest before our first game against the BYU-Hawaii Seasiders tomorrow.
Tuesday November 23rd: Day 5
Today was the day to get focused. It was the day that we had to do what we came here for. The team had breakfast at Denny's together, then spent some time watching film and preparing for the day's game. We all met downstairs and headed into the vans. On the way, we stopped and had lunch at a small par k right on the beach. It was very relaxing and had some great views of the water. It was probably the best pre-game meal ever.
The gym, as I said before, was completely new to us. Even the way the gym was set up and the way the clock was run. Overall, the game as a whole took some adjusting to, yet we managed to play our game and pull out the win. Although at times BYU made runs and gave us problems we were able to hold on to win by two. Dominoes in the parking lot had never tasted so good. Still, we had about an hour van ride back to the hotel and we were all exhausted. We were going to Pearl Harbor tomorrow and leaving very early, so we were all excited to get back to the hotel to sleep.
Wednesday November 24th: Day 6
Setting the alarm with a 6 on it is never, ever fun. Getting to Pearl Harbor before the crowds, however, requires a very early wakeup. We all met in the lobby at 6:55 and headed to the vans. We arrived at Pearl Harbor both intrigued and unsure of what to expect. I knew that it was a pivotal attack in WWII and it was the reason for the US's entry into the war and that many lives were lost. Yet, none of this had really hit home before.
As we waited for our boat ride out to the USS Arizona Memorial, we watched a short background video about Pearl Harbor and the attack. The Japanese surprised the US navy and marines stationed in Pearl Harbor with an air and sea attack on December 7th, 1941. All of the US battleships docked on battleship row were damaged or sunk. The USS Arizona was hit with an armor-piercing torpedo which caused its ammunition stores to explode. 1,177 men were trapped inside when the boat sunk. The rusting hulk that now rests feet beneath the surface of the water is where they still lie.
The USS Arizona memorial was one of the most memorable parts of this trip. The list of the names of the deceased covered an entire wall, while windows on both the sides and bottom of the structure allowed us to see the twisted metal that was all that was left of the battleship. As we were getting ready to leave, a Pearl Harbor veteran walked in. All he had to say to his applauding audience was, "Don't forget about the men still down there." More so than everything else that we had encountered and learned that day, this made it real.
Once we got back, we had a fe w minutes to change, and we were off to the park for the day's workout. Since we had won the day before, Coach Lusk set up a game of two-hand touch football and lunch in the park after.
The rest of the day was ours so I spent it on the beach. Theresa and I rented a stand-up paddleboard, but could only really manage sitting on it. Eventually, Theresa, Sylvia and I all were able to stand on it for a couple minutes, but whenever a big wave hit, we just fell off. Once the sun went down, we showered and went to dinner.
The streets of Waikiki turned out to have some great shopping. We spent the rest of the night before curfew looking at all of the interesting shops and watching street performers,
Thursday November 25th: HAPPY THANKSGIVING! (Day 7)
For once in my life, it didn't really feel like Thanksgiving. I'm not sure if it was the warm weather, the beach or not being with my family, but either way, it wasn't what I was used to. Instead of waking up and watching the parade, Theresa, Bri and I went to breakfast at a local restaurant and did some more shopping for our families. After a few free hours, it was time to get ready for practice.
We drove over to the Neil Blaisdell Center in Honolulu where we would be playing our game against Hawaii Pacific University the next day. The arena was huge; most of us had never played in anything so big. We practiced hard for an hour and a half, then headed back to the hotel to get ready for Thanksgiving dinner.
Coach Lusk made reservations at a beautiful hotel restaurant overlooking the beach and the ocean. Although most of us weren't able to spend the holiday with our families, being with our teammates and coaches made up for it. Still, there was turkey and stuffing (just like home), and we we re all very thankful for the opportunity to be playing the sport we love in Hawaii.
After a filling a delicious dinner, we had the rest of our last night here to spend as we chose. Theresa, Bri, Sylvia, Spres and I went to the beach and then walked around. While shopping in an ABC store (Hawaii's equivalent of a CVS), we ran into the UNC Women's Basketball team. Theresa couldn't help but ask for a photo and about their games. It was a privilege to meet and talk to some division I players that we normally would only see on TV.
Still, tomorrow was game day and we had to be prepared. Also, we were traveling back home after our game, so we knew we had a long day ahead of us. So we headed back to the hotel early to pack and get a good night's rest before our last day in Hawaii.
Friday November 26th: Day 8
Today we had our second game of the week. We woke up pretty early and had another team breakfast at Denny's. After storing our bags in the hotel's meeting room for after the game, we got into the vans and drove back to the Blaisdell Center.
Unfortunately, we couldn't come out with a victory. HPU's experience from being in the NCAA tournament last year proved to be too difficult to overcome. It was a disappointing loss and end to our week. Yet, we knew it was a learning experience and can now work from the mistakes we made in this game to improve. We left the gym after a short cool down and went back to the hotel.
We changed into our bathing suits, and walked to the beach to soak up the last rays of sun before we headed back to New York and winter. With one final jump in the ocean, we went back to the hotel to shower off and get ready for our flight home.
This week in Hawaii was an amazing experience. The memories, lessons that we learned and bonds that were created through this trip will stay with us forever. We know how lucky we are to have the opportunity to play basketball here and we are more than grateful for all the work that our Coaches and school have put in to allow us to do so. As a freshman, I couldn't ask for a better start to my college career. Obviously, going to Hawaii is great for anyone, but this week was about more than just the beaches and the fun. It was about basketball, it was about learning and it was about friendships. It was a week that I'm sure none of us will soon forget.