When spring break rolls around, some college students go on extravagant excursions to exotic destinations seeking beautiful views, warm weather and adventure. Others catch the first ride home and decompress with their families and hometown friends for the remainder of the break.
I took a more unconventional approach, traveling up and down the East Coast to cover Penn Athletics. I guess it’s just in my nature.
The idea came up in a text conversation between myself and Associate Sports Editor Thomas Munson, and it went something like this: “Let’s cover as many sporting events on the opening weekend of spring break as physically possible.”
Was the idea ridiculous? Irrational? Insane?
Probably. But we decided to go full speed ahead with the trip anyway.
Here’s how it went down.Stop 1: All Eyes on the Lehigh Valley
My journey began early on Friday, March 6, in my hometown: the infamous Nazareth, Pa.
With the ambitious plans I had set, I needed some help.
For reasons I have yet to fully understand, my longtime friend from home, Mike Kopach, decided to help me with the trip. After picking him up in my 2009 Toyota Camry — a car that noticeably lacks a front hubcap — and briefly praying that it would not break down during the trip, we made our way to our first stop.
That stop was Lehigh’s Stabler Arena, the venue in which I had graduated less than two years back and where Penn wrestling had traveled for the first day of Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships.
Mike and I may or may not have had proper media credentials (shout out to Lehigh for letting us in), and I had never even attended a wrestling match before. But we fought through and covered the Red and Blue, who had a solid showing on the tournament’s first day.
After only a couple hours, we knew we had to leave our hometown behind for bigger and better things.
Stop 2: The Big Apple
I must have incredible friends because I was also able to convince another hometown friend, Noah Hartzell, to assist on the trip.
After picking him up, we hit the road for New York City, where we were set to cover Penn women’s basketball matchup with Columbia.
Traffic on the way was rough. However, relying heavily on bumping music at absurd volume levels to keep our spirits up, we persevered. Our playlist throughout the trip was eclectic to say the least, although more Drake, Michael Jackson and Meat Loaf was played than I would care to admit.
At Columbia, we met another Associate Sports Editor, Tom Nowlan, who would assist with the rest of the trip. After approximately 30 minutes of wandering aimlessly around campus, we got situated in the gym.
The Red and Blue were solid once again, as they have been for quite some time. Standout observation from Penn’s easy victory: freshman forward Michelle Nwokedi is terrific and will be for years to come.
All four of us staggered out of the gym, tired and determined to consume some sort of food. After waiting what seemed like two hours for some sort of hoagie (and being called out several times by the deli’s owner for our clear cluelessness), we made our way back to Penn’s campus to get some much needed sleep.
Stop 3: Dividing and Conquering
All four of us were up early on Saturday and ready for a busy day.
The day started inauspiciously for me, as my attempted Wawa run was thwarted by a power outage on the corner of 37th and Spruce. Undeterred by both sickness and tiredness, I fueled up at Dunkin Donuts before jogging across campus to Penn Park.
There, I stopped in to check out Penn men’s tennis warming up for its match with Radford, a match it would eventually win, 5-2.
But time was of the essence, and I hustled back to my room to pick up Mike and head back to Lehigh to cover the second day of EIWAs.
We snuck into Stabler just in time to witness heartbreak for Penn wrestling, as both C.J. Cobb and Lorenzo Thomas were defeated in close semifinal contests. Canaan Bethea would advance to the finals, but by then we were long gone — with Mike having left back to his home and with me hurrying back to Philly, bound to catch the second half of Penn men’s lacrosse against Villanova at Franklin Field.
Meanwhile, back in Philly, Noah and Tom held down the fort, covering men’s tennis and men’s lacrosse. After circling campus multiple times to find a parking spot, I caught up with them during the second half.
The Wildcats took the game easily, and Penn’s Nautica-wearing contingent of supporters were getting irritated in the stands. The vibes at Franklin Field left something to be desired, but everything about the trip was going according to plan.
Stop 4: And then Something Hit the Fan...
After the lacrosse game ended, we dropped whatever we had planned on doing to figure out what in the world was going on.
Thankfully, we were able to assemble a ragtag group of individuals — me, Tom and Noah included — to get the situation under control before heading over to the Palestra to cover the team, which was set to play Cornell.
There was a strange feeling in the building with Allen coaching as a lame duck, but the Quakers played inspired basketball. Freshman Antonio Woods looked especially like a man on a mission, and Penn easily took down the Big Red.
In the subsequent press conference, Allen stayed mum on the obvious subject by channeling his inner Beast Mode, a humorous albeit anticlimactic conclusion to the evening.
At some point during the day, I was informed — to my horror — that time would “spring ahead” that night, depriving us of a crucial hour of sleep. I ended up sleeping for about two hours that night. The plans had completely gone off the rails.
Stop 5: Southbound and Back Again
We left Philadelphia at 5:30 on Sunday morning and hit the road for Norfolk, Va., where we were ready to catch Penn baseball take on Old Dominion in an afternoon doubleheader.
We started the final day of the trip with understandably low energy, but as the sun grew brighter and the hills grew flatter, the vibes in the Camry got considerably more positive.
By the time we made it across the Chesapeake Bridge, we were bumping the Beach Boys on a consistent basis and the temperature had risen to over 50 degrees. Noah and I were ready for some baseball; Tom was still sleeping like a baby.
When we finally got to Old Dominion’s baseball stadium, it couldn’t have been a more perfect day for a game. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and a cool, coastal breeze circled around the ballpark.
The Red and Blue looked a bit sluggish in the first game of the doubleheader, falling after a late-inning rally by the Monarchs despite a solid outing by Quakers’ star pitcher Conner Cuff. The Red and Blue also fell in the second game, victimized by a spectacular catch made by an Old Dominion outfielder while running into the left field wall.
Through some combination of sugar, loud music and adrenaline, we were able to take turns on the road and make it back to Philly, where we dropped Tom off. Meanwhile, Noah and I made the final trek to Nazareth, putting the road trip officially to an end.
Seven sporting events, almost 1,000 miles and countless memories later, the journey had ended where it began, in my hometown. And spring break had only just begun.
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