For 10 days this summer, the Wittenberg women's basketball team spent time in Australia, competing against other teams, bonding, exploring history, traveling new paths, and serving others.
“We got to experience things we will never get to experience again in our lives, and we got to do it with our teammates/best friends," said senior guard Alexandra L. Kiess, from Edon, Ohio. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it was so worth it."
The Tigers were able to get a jump start on the season, playing three games against the Casey Cavaliers, the Ringwood Hawks, and Sydney University, while also exploring Melbourne and Sydney during two legs of the trip.
“My favorite part was the Sydney Opera House and the beaches we went to,” Kiess added. “I’ve seen the opera house on TV and in movies, and I was in awe getting to see it in real life! The beaches were also so beautiful and clean, and hiking five miles around endless beaches with your best friends in Australia isn’t something everyone gets to experience. I’ve never been out of the country before, so I was really nervous, but oddly enough, this is the only place I’ve ever wanted to visit. It’s amazing seeing what else is out there in this world. Playing basketball in a different country was awesome, as well, because we got to experience a new type of play and meet the other teams. Overall, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop talking about the trip.”
Per NCAA rules, teams are allowed to take an international trip every three years. Not only did the Tigers play some tough competition, but they also gave back to the community, holding a basketball clinic for underprivileged youth in the area prior to tip-off before the first game against the Casey Cavaliers. There was also time for touring, so the team visited Eureka Tower, Healesville Sanctuary, took in an Australian rules football game, and walked on historic Coogee and Bondi Beach.
“Our coaching staff is committed to providing our players with a ‘trip of a lifetime’ during their four years at Wittenberg,” said head coach Kelly Mahlum, who led the Tigers to a 16-12 finish in the 2017-18 season, capped off by a run to the NCAC Tournament Championship after upsetting the No. 5 team in the nation in the conference semifinals.
Italy and Greece were the two countries the coaches previously toured with earlier teams.
“One of the great moments for me as a coach is to offer an opportunity to our players to experience a place they have never been before. For many, it is their first international trip anywhere. We have even had players who have never flown before. A trip like this is invaluable to a team. There are very few college student-athletes that get to say they played against international competition with their college teammates. A trip like this only helps to solidify lifelong friendships and improve our current team's appreciation for their teammates," Mahlum said.
As for basketball in Australia, the Tigers played against mid-level professional clubs, and the style of play in Australia was “different and very fast-paced,” according to Mahlum. Americans use a 30-second shot clock, while Australians play with a 24-second shot clock. Americans have a 10-second back court rule, while Australians have an eight-second back court rule. Both these rules push an up-tempo game.
“There were a few other rules that were different that we had to experience, as well,” Mahlum said. “We knew that we would face a full-court press a lot, and we did. Our first game we struggled to adjust as we were dealing with jet lag, but by our third game we had adjusted and played at a faster tempo. Our defense improved a lot once we adjusted to the speed.”
“This trip was important for our team because it brought us together, and we got to learn a lot about each other,” said senior Amanda Raber, a point guard from Mechanicsburg, Ohio. “For me this trip was important because I got to learn about a different culture and way of life. My favorite part was being able to bond with my teammates and really learn more about everyone. I loved everything about it! Australia was beautiful and so clean. I loved how after the basketball games we got to meet and talk to the other players. The food was also very good and fresh everywhere we went. The people of Australia were also very nice. I want to go back to Australia again someday.”
- By Cindy Holbrook, University Communications
The trip to Australia was a dream come true for team manager Stephanie Durbin '19:
Traveling to Australia fulfilled a dream I’ve had since I was a kid. If someone had told me at the beginning of the year I would have the opportunity to visit Australia with my best friends and my sister, I would not have believed them. When the women’s basketball team announced our team trip was to Australia, I knew I had to find a way to go. When it was opened up to families, my sister had the same thought. Being able to travel to a foreign country was a scary thought. It was my first time out of North America, and my parents were not there to help me along the way. It helped having my sister there along with my teammates who are also some of my closest friends at Wittenberg. However, I was still terrified being so far from home.
Traveling to a different country forces you to learn how to have a higher level of independence. Even though we were travelling in a group of 23, we had a lot of time on our own to split up and explore. Getting lost in a big city without cellular data forced us to use maps on the streets and try to communicate with the locals. Growing up having GPS and cell service constantly made it difficult to get around without it. Even though Australians also speak English, the accents and the way we talk can sometimes create a barrier. For example, they use the metric system, so if they told us to walk a certain number of meters we had to figure out how far that actually was.
The team started out in the city of Melbourne. This was the younger more upbeat city. Some alleys have little garage doors that open to sell coffee, pastries, or art. We were also able to tour the Rod Laver Arena, which is home to the Australian Open and major concert venues in the area.
Another exciting place we went was the Healesville Sanctuary. It was interesting to see the animals closer to their natural habitat and not sleeping all day like they do in many of the zoos in the United States. At the sanctuary, we split into two groups. One group got to feed and pet kangaroos native to Kangaroo Island in Australia. The other group was able to get close to koalas. This was one of my favorite things that we did because it was unique and exciting to be up close to these native animals.
After Melbourne we flew to Sydney. We were able to travel to the main beaches, which were gorgeous. We did a walk from Coogee Beach to Bondi Beach. It took almost four hours to walk three miles because we took the scenic route. We walked along the rocks and went down by the water where we were able to see dolphins, an octopus, sea urchins, parrots, and more. It was beautiful and worth every second.
Part of going as our basketball team trip allowed the team to play three Australian teams. We played a junior team and two semi-pro teams. It was hard adjusting to some of the rules such as the shorter shot clock. The team also played the day after we arrived, so jet lag provided a major obstacle. However, it was a unique experience and brought the team together. We were able to have ‘little socials’ after the first two games where we had the opportunity to ask questions and talk to Australians close in age to us.
Going to Australia was all about stepping out of my comfort zone. A 17-hour flight, trying new food (including kangaroo), exploring on my own and communicating with Australians for help with directions or to learn more all helped me grow as a person.
Being the women’s basketball manager has given me opportunities and helped me form relationships that could help me accomplish my goals. My goals include becoming a physical therapist and working full-time with athletes. Being with the team, being there firsthand to witness injuries and the whole recovery process, has pushed me to realize these goals. The opportunity to travel and meet new people is another opportunity I've gotten through being the team manager. Going to Australia made me want to continue to travel. The independence and organization I have gained from helping this team and traveling will stay with me. If I never became the manager, I do not think I would have left the country during college. I would have been too scared to travel abroad. Now, I do not have as much of a fear and would love to continue traveling the world.
Stephanie Durbin '19
Major: Exercise Science
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio