Sunday, August 19, 2012
Personally, I am grateful and humbled that Coach Kest and her
staff asked me to come along on this trip. I will be traveling with
the team all season long, and this was the first chance I got to
really sit down with the team and the coaches and get to know
everyone, both on and off the court. I can tell you that this
program exudes class and has an incredible work ethic – it
will be fun to watch them play this year.
Our last day in Costa Rica couldn't have been any better. We had
the whole day to relax, and even though the team spent every waking
minute together this week, they didn't stray from each other today.
The weather looked questionable when we woke up this morning, but
by 10:30 the sun was shining and the players were smiling. The Zips
spent the day together at the pool reading, listening to music,
trying out water aerobics and playing volleyball.
Wake up call is very early tomorrow, in just a few hours in fact. Another two-hour bus ride back to San Jose will get us to the airport in time for an 8:40 a.m. flight to Dallas, where we have a rather substantial layover. We are not scheduled to leave for Cleveland until 8:00 p.m. CST, which puts us back in Ohio around 11:30 p.m. EDT.
Before I sign off for the last time, here are a few odds and
ends from my Costa Rica "notebook":
Saturday, August 18, 2012
For those of you keeping track at home, we have spent a lot of time on the bus this week. Every activity has come with about a minimum of a two-hour bus ride each way to and from the hotel. It hasn’t been too bad; most of the time the team will catch up on some much-needed sleep, or check out the landscape passing by through the windows. But it has provided our group the opportunity to grow very close to our bus driver, Roig, and our tour guide, Danny. Roig does not speak any English, but we were very grateful for his driving skills. The roads here are like the West Virginia turnpike on steroids – there doesn’t seem to be a straight shot in the whole country. We were sad to say goodbye to our two Costa Rican friends today, and of course had to take a picture to remember them by before they drove our bus off into the distance for the last time.
There were over 30 crocs underneath this bridge on the side of the highway. People pull over to stop and take pictures of them all the time. The reason that so many gather in one area is that there are fish that get stuck under the bridge because the water is so shallow, so it is a prime feeding ground for the crocodiles.
Around 3:00 p.m. our time, we made it to the Marriott. The property is just as incredible as any of the three we have stayed at on this trip, and it is located right on the Pacific Ocean. There are also condos on the outskirts of the hotel that sell for millions and millions of American dollars and are second (or third) homes to several celebrities, including Danny DeVito. There are multiple swimming pools spread out all along the coastline, which the team wasted no time testing out.
Friday, August 17, 2012
Akron basketball's latest excursion took us to the Arenal region, about two hours north of our Villa in San Ramon, where we saw the volcano and swam in its natural hot springs. We didn't set out until about 10:30 a.m., so the group had a few hours to explore the jungle around the hotel. Some of the girls ran the nearby hills on the mountain, a few got up early to milk the cows, and even some of the staff got in on the fun.
When we got on the bus to head to the volcano our tour guide Danny, who has been instrumental in immersing us into the Costa Rican culture for the past six days, informed us that we were taking a detour to a special place called the iguana tree. It sounded like it was just going to be a tree full of iguanas, and that is exactly what it was, but it was pretty cool.
There were at least 10 iguanas in the tree, which is known as a horse whip tree because the branches are so thin that farmers sometimes remove them and use them as horse whips. It is also a mating tree for the iguanas, which can grow to six feet and over 50 pounds. The iguana eggs hatch in two months, and the animals have a 10-year life span in the wild.
After we saw the tree, it was on to the volcano. The Arenal volcano had its last big eruption in 1968, and at first its acid burned through all of the surrounding areas. In the years since then, it has turned into volcanic soil, and now many different types of crops are able to thrive in a several mile radius.
On the way to the hot springs, we also saw the country's largest man-made lake. We stopped on the side of the road, hopped off the bus and snapped a few pictures of the nice view. The team also spotted a family of monkeys in the trees nearby. They turned out to be howler monkeys – the girls had been dying to see a monkey all week, and it was fun to see them zip through the trees.
Finally, we arrived at the hot springs. The hot springs are natural pools of water of all different sizes that are warmed through the heat of the volcano. There were over 30 pools contained in the resort we visited called Tabacon, and the temperature of the water ranged from 80 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The waterfalls and tropical flowers enclosing the springs made for an extremely serene and tranquil experience. Everyone in the group had a good time exploring the grounds and trying out the different springs.
After a delicious dinner at the resort (a Mexican-themed buffet)
the team returned to the hotel for its last night in the Villa. You
learn a lot about your teammates when you are put in adverse
situations, i.e. with no WiFi access, but it has made for some
unforgettable bonding moments! Freshman Katie Nunan (Fairmont,
W.Va./Fairmont Senior HS) talks a little more about the team's
adjustments to life in the wild:
The rectangle identifies San Jose, our first main city. The big
black circle to the north surrounds the Poas Volcano, the area
where we went zip lining on Tuesday. The long blue line to the
northeast shows the route to the white water rafting site (the
actual river is directly to the south, highlighted by the arrow).
Finally, to the northwest, in the lined circle is where we are now
in San Ramon.
The Villa Blanca is a little change of pace for the team from
the past four days. The property is high on a mountain tucked into
the middle of the rainforest, and is dotted with little cottages
that will be our home for the next two nights. These cottages do
not have air conditioning, Internet, or TVs, but they do have bugs
– if you listen closely, you can probably hear the girls
screaming all the way back in Akron.
The coaching staff and players split up into four different
stations and taught the kids shooting, passing, dribbling and
layups. Most of the kids were of middle school to high school age,
and the majority did not speak English. One small wrinkle in the
plans came minutes into the instruction when the lights went out in
the gym. It was around 5:30 p.m., near sundown, so there was still
enough natural light to finish the clinic. However, we discovered
that there was a power outage in three nearby counties and the game
had to be cancelled. The Zips made fast friends with the kids
though, and despite the unplanned blackout it turned out to be a
worthwhile event for everyone.
We drove to a nearby city with electricity to a pizza parlor; a little taste of home for dinner. On the drive back to the Villa, the bus had to stop for cows in the road – another sign we're not in Akron anymore.
Tomorrow is another all-day adventure; we are going to see
Arenal Volcano and swim in the Tabacon Hot Springs. The staff is
looking forward to this especially, so we can come home looking
younger than ever.
When it was lunchtime in Ohio, it was go time in Costa Rica. The
Zips were rolling on a river for the better part of Wednesday
afternoon, white water rafting on the Pacuare River. The team left
San Jose at 6:30 a.m. local time for the two and a half hour ride
to the rafting site. Once we passed the city limits, the scenery
was unlike anything we have ever seen in the United States.
Shortly after we arrived at the exploration headquarters, we were packed onto a much smaller bus that took us to the beginning of the river. That ride took another 30 minutes, down roads so narrow they should not have physically been able to hold a bus full of college basketball players. Sure enough though, after weaving our way down the mountain, we finally made it to the starting line.
Our group of 24 fit perfectly into four rafts of six people, plus one tour guide each, and before we knew it we were geared up and rafting through the jungle. We learned a lot about the region – the foliage, the wildlife, the indigenous people – and by the end of the day we logged over 10 miles in the raft. Halfway through the trip, we stopped at a campsite and had lunch (highlighted by fresh pineapple, which is excellent here, even for those of us who don't care for pineapple back home). During the second leg of a trip which totaled about four hours, we floated through a canyon and everyone hopped out of the rafts to swim through the waterfalls, even a few girls who had never swam before.
When we reached the end of the river, there were native children there who greeted us, collected our equipment and helped us climb the rocks back to the headquarters. Click here to view a full photo gallery of Akron women's basketball holding its own on the Pacuare River.
On our trip back to the hotel, it began to rain as it has most afternoons since we have been in Costa Rica. Keep in mind it is not summer here; there are only two seasons in this country (similar to what we are used to at home – winter and not winter – only here it is summer and rainy season). The summer months are from November to May. We are in the heart of rainy season, and it rains almost predictably around 3:00 p.m. every afternoon.
It was a good thing the team didn't play this evening, because even after a nap on the bus ride home, the girls, and the staff, returned absolutely drained. Still, we were able to check yet another item off the bucket list in just a few short days in our new home away from home.
Tomorrow is a travel day for the Zips. We are scheduled to leave
the Real Intercontinental Hotel at around 12:30 p.m. EDT for San
Ramon and the Villa Blanca Hotel. The team's third and final game
is set for 7:00 p.m. EDT Thursday night in our new city. Before we
leave, check out this video with freshmen DiAndra Gibson (Ravenna,
Ohio/Ravenna) and Jasmine Wood (Lansing, Mich./Lansing Waverly),
talking about why they chose Akron and what they are looking
forward to during their debut season in a UA uniform.
Despite Akron's early flow, Costa Rica was able to hang around and kept the score close at the end of the first quarter, trailing UA 17-14.
In deja-vu fashion, the second quarter belonged to Hanna Luburgh as she exploded for 12 of her 17 points during the second 10 minutes. Luburgh knocked down back-to-back treys and completed a transition layup to spark what would be an Akron 17-0 run. UA outscored Costa Rica 23-5 in that second quarter.
The Zips never relinquished their hold on the game, putting together a fairly balanced attack in the second half to stay on top. Coach Kest collected 17 combined points from her newcomers, 13 of which came in the final two quarters.
Sina King was the leading scorer again, posting a double-double with 22 points and 14 rebounds. She was 10-for-14 from the charity stripe.
Take a look at the two post-game videos below. Coach Kest
reviews the team's second run at Costa Rica's national team and
touches on the zip lining outing, and freshman Anita Brown (Warren,
Ohio/Warren Harding) talks about her experience during her first
few weeks on the team.
We left the hotel at 9:30 a.m. to head to the foothills of the
mountains near the Poas volcano, which is one of six active
volcanoes in Costa Rica. The ride took about an hour, as we
traveled on the Pan-American highway out of the city where the
roads soon became knotted with twists and turns and the scenery
became more beautiful with every mile. Coffee plants grow on the
side of the highway, and is one of the country's proud exports.
Costa Ricans start drinking coffee when they are infants, however
typical Costa Rican coffee contains just about 1% caffeine. The
span of a coffee plant is 25 years, but they are only in season
from December to February.
The final line was a quarter of a mile long, and we were reaching speeds over 30 mph. It was an incredible way to end the experience, literally taking our breath away. Click here to view the entire photo gallery from our day in the trees.
Wednesday holds another early wake up call for the Akron family. As if anything could top today, next up on the itinerary is white water rafting. The river is about a two and a half hour drive from our hotel, so we are scheduled to leave promptly at 8:30 a.m. EDT (6:30 for us down here). The Zips will play their third and final international game on Thursday against San Ramon in Palmares.
Coach Kest had her first look at the 2012-13 squad tonight in a 68-47 win over a scrappy Costa Rica team. The Zips started off cold and didn't pick up their first basket until nearly two and a half minutes into the game, when freshman DiAndra Gibson knocked down a mid-range jumper.
Costa Rica came out of the gate in a zone defense, forcing Akron to take quick shots from the outside. It took awhile for the shots to fall, especially from behind the extended arc, but once they did the Zips were able to take control. Hanna Luburgh started the fire, scoring nine of her 10 first half points in the second quarter and creating opportunities for her teammates, collecting four offensive rebounds in that first half.
Sina King was the story underneath, shooting 9-for-9 from the free throw line, leading all scorers with 19 points and picking up nine rebounds.
Redshirt junior Rachel Tecca and freshman Katie Nunan did not dress for the game. Akron is scheduled to play its second game of the trip tomorrow, Tuesday night at 9:00 p.m. EDT against the Costa Rica National Team Squad 1.
Click on the video below to hear Coach Kest's initial reaction after the first international contest:
The San Jose Indoor Club Arena, where
tomorrow's game will also be played, was an extremely nice facility
that was an indoor/outdoor members only club with swimming pools,
tennis and racquetball courts, weight rooms and basketball courts.
We weren't sure exactly what to expect as far as the facility or
the caliber of competition, and were pleasantly surprised on both
Besides the deciding victory, the highlight of the day was
definitely the tour of downtown San Jose. After an amazing hotel
breakfast, our tour guide Daniel took us on a combined bus and
walking tour of the city. We learned a lot about the history of the
country and saw some of San Jose's landmarks.
Costa Rica's signature phrase is "Pura Vida". Translated literally, it means 'pure life', but it is used in the context to describe anything in life that is good. If someone asks how you are doing, you can respond with "pura vida"; likewise if someone asks you how your meal was or how your team played tonight, you can also say "pura vida". Its multiple uses can be compared to "Aloha" in Hawaii.
Also, even though Costa Rica uses the metric system, we found out that a gallon of gas here is around $5.40 (and we thought it was bad at home). 80% of the population doesn't own a car; public transportation is very popular. We had to keep our head on a swivel when we got off the bus and walked the streets, because pedestrians do not have the right of way in this country.
When we got off the bus, we walked to an outdoor market where
the team was able to shop for authentic Costa Rican souvenirs. Click
here to check out the photo gallery from our tour!
By the time we were back at the hotel tonight, everyone was exhausted. It was an early night for curfew but it will be an early morning tomorrow – our next activity on deck is ziplining! A highly anticipated event of the trip by everyone, even Tom Wistrcill, our AD who joined us this afternoon and will be with us for the next few days.
FIBA vs. NCAA
We may see some unique jersey numbers on the court tonight, as FIBA allows players to wear one and two-digit numbers that we do not see on the court in the U.S. college game (i.e. 6 through 9).
This morning the team will embark on a guided tour of San Jose to further get a feel for life in Costa Rica. We are scheduled to leave for the San Jose Indoor Club Arena, where two out of the three games will be played, at 7:00 p.m. EDT, with tipoff at 8:30. We also have another member of the Zips family joining our group today - Tom Wistrcill, our Director of Athletics, will be in the country in just a few hours!
Update: 10:00 p.m.
The team before dinner tonight
Akron WBB invades CR! The team right after making it through customs.
It didn't take long for reality to sink in that we are not in the United States anymore. The weather is warm and muggy, but overcast. Signs everywhere are in Spanish, including the highway signs, but most of them have the English translation in fine print underneath. The Zips have already been put to the test to see how much Spanish they can remember from high school. The scenery so far is interesting; very green with a lot of hills and mountains, even though we are near the heart of downtown San Jose.
On the bus from the airport to the hotel, we met Daniel, our tour guide who will be with us for the majority of the trip, showing us around the country and taking us to the various extracurricular activities over the next few days. He explained the Costa Rican currency which is called colones. The exchange rate is one U.S. dollar equals 500 colones. He also said that a lot of the clothing in Costa Rica is more expensive than the same clothing in the United States due to import taxes, so natives will often travel to the U.S. to purchase clothing.
The hotel we are staying in, the first of three on the trip, is an Intercontinental Hotel which is said to be the nicest in the city. All of the celebrities and musical artists will stay here when they come to Costa Rica to tour.
The team had its first trial run in the city for lunch today, venturing over to the mall across the street. It was extremely busy and a little overwhelming, but overall made for a good first impression (and the girls found that the clothing was indeed pricey). The food court there was very similar to an American food court with all of the normal fast food chains. It was weird to see the prices listed in colones; although the stores and food places will take American money, they give you change in colones.
After a pretty tiring first day, the team has some free time now for the next few hours to unwind until we get back together for a team dinner later this evening. On deck for tomorrow is a tour of San Jose in the morning, and the Zips' first international gameday! Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m. EDT). Don't forget to check out the Costa Rica prospectus prior to gametime.
There were five different stations set up around the room representing different courses of what would soon be our dinner. We were split into groups and assigned to a station, where we had 30 minutes to prepare 22 identical plates of that particular portion of the meal. In the international spirit of the weekend, the food was inspired by the region of South America the team will be visiting (lots of corn, salsa and beans...but unfortunately not much guacamole).
Each station had a chef advisor to guide the process, but the group was only permitted to ask their chef one question during the 30 minutes. At the end, one person from each group had to present their plate in front of the "judges" and a winner was declared.
What tied the "Top Chef" experience to the basketball court was the in-depth discussion about teamwork and leadership that took place after dinner. The advisors and Coach Kest analyzed the group dynamic and how they saw teammates working together to achieve an end goal. A few of the most important takeaways from the night were don't be afraid to ask a question, and there is more than one way to get to the same place. Some of the groups hit some roadblocks along the way, but they overcame the obstacles and got the job done, and there was plenty of food for everyone (and it wasn't half bad!)
By the way, the dessert team was crowned the winner. Taylor Ruper had the idea to turn the cake into a volcano like the one we will see in Costa Rica.
The team only has a few hours left in America. The bus leaves the JAR bright and early at 3:45 a.m. for the Cleveland airport.
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Coach Kest's Costa Rica Review
Friday, August 17, 2012
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
DiAndra Gibson and Jasmine Wood
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Coach Kest on Game 2
Monday, August 13, 2012
Coach Kest on Game 1