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For Penn women's basketball, a weeklong trip to Hawaii involved more than just the two games they played on the island — it also meant other team activities, such as snorkeling in Hanauma Bay.

Credit: Riley Steele

For Penn women’s basketball, getting to Hawaii was more than just making sure they got 35 tickets to paradise. 

The team spent just under a week on the Hawaiian island of Oahu from Dec. 29 to Jan. 4, playing two games in addition to practices, team activities and sightseeing. Making all of this happen was no easy feat.

It fell upon freshly minted Director of Basketball Operations Christine McCollum to make the trip a reality. After taking on the role in late May, McCollum was tasked with planning the logistical details of the week in Hawaii, ensuring that all of the necessary pieces were in place and accounted for.

Although the trip had been in the works for some time before McCollum’s arrival on staff, only the basic framework of the journey had been established at that point. In fact, Penn coach Mike McLaughlin says the idea to go to Hawaii had been floating around his head as far back as his second year at Penn, in 2009.

It wasn’t until mid-2014, however, the trip began to shape into form. Before real planning could start, the team needed approval from Athletic Director Grace Calhoun and Alanna Shananan, the assistant athletic director who works directly with the program. Their approval came quickly.

“I constantly communicated with Alanna about what we’re looking at, how many days, in terms of trying to manage within what we’re asked to do,” McLaughlin explained. “They’re phenomenal with that, they understand to coordinate this with a young group, it’s a great experience.”

Next for the staff was determining the two games to be scheduled for the team’s time on the island. Hawaii was added first and was an easy fit, according to McLaughlin, because they had an open date that fit right in after Penn's finals and post-Christmas.

The greater difficulty lay in finding a second team to play. Eventually, the coaches settled on BYU-Hawaii, a Division II school on the north end of the island, and from there, McCollum took over.

“I do all of that stuff,” McCollum explained, discussing the logistical planning that went into the trip, “so the coaches, they don’t have to worry about any of it.”

There was a basic structure around which McCollum operated. Although new to her role at Penn, she threw herself at putting the trip together and in particular sought advice from the football team’s staff on how to coordinate with a larger-than-usual travel party.

“So that was the first step, figuring out which day we were going to leave, which day we were going to come home, and then coordinating hotels from there, obviously based around our games,” she said.

“Figuring out how many days we would need to recover from the long travel, practice before our first game, and then also after the fact have a day, day and a half after we play our last game to enjoy the island before we head back.”

McCollum took care the trip from every angle, something McLaughlin was quick to point out.

“It’s tedious to be able to call and make sure it’s right and get 35 people wherever all in a timely fashion,” he remarked. “So I want to make sure the credit goes to Christine, that made this great location into a phenomenal trip because of her skill set.”

It helped that this was not the first trip of its kind for either McCollum or McLaughlin. In 2006, while McLaughlin was coach at Holy Family and McCollum was a freshman forward on the team, the Tigers made a similar venture to Hawaii. That experience with Holy Family served as a rough model as the Quakers planned their version of the trip.

“When I played for [McLaughlin] at Holy Family, we came here my freshman year, so I remembered a lot of things that we had done that they had coordinated for us when we came out here on that team trip,” McCollum explained. “So we kind of went from there and tried to figure out what we’ll have time to do based on the games.”

The biggest issue with creating the schedule for Hawaii was striking a balance between work and play. After arriving on the island on Tuesday, the Red and Blue played games on Thursday and Saturday. When it wasn’t game day, practices still went on and the team used the Rainbow Warriors’ facilities to stay sharp while dealing with the effects of the time change.

Yet the Quakers still found time to make the most of what the island offered. While McCollum scheduled team dinners, a luau, snorkeling and a trip to Pearl Harbor for the team, there was also a considerable degree of freedom in letting the players set their own directions.

Everyone got what they wanted out of the trip. The team won two games. Every day offered some form of team activity. And the players and the families who made the trip as well had the chance to have fun on their own.

To McLaughlin, the benefits of such a trip will be felt for a long time.

“I think for the short term it can only benefit a group to be together this long. As I said, they genuinely like each other so it was great,” he commented as the team readied to leave Monday.

“For the long term it’s something that helps the program. You know, I think it puts the recruiting out there, that we’ll travel, we’ll do things that could be a separator between our university and someone else’s because we value this type of experience for our players.”

Now home from their working vacation, Penn has just under a week to prepare for Saturday’s Ivy League opener against a Princeton team looking to replicate their perfect conference play from a year ago.

For McCollum, McLaughlin made the case for her to take a vacation of her own.

“I know the tireless hours she put in late at night, early in the morning. She’s a perfectionist and she wanted the best for everyone, and I think she did it.”

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