LOS ANGELES — There comes a point in between semesters where you need a break from winter break. That’s just what Penn women’s basketball got with a five-day working vacation in California this past week.
Since arriving in University City back in 2009, Mike McLaughlin has tried to make an annual trip an important part of his players’ experiences at Penn. There’s been Italy, Hawaii, Miami — all kinds of opportunities to go places a lot of the athletes may have never gotten to see before.
This year, the destination was the City of Angels. The process for coming up with such a trip starts with the seniors. This year’s iteration of the Red and Blue features three: Jackie Falconer (Mechanichsburg, Pa.) and Kasey Chambers (Delmar, N.J.) are both relatively local, so the first suggestion was a trip to St. Louis, hometown for Sydney Stipanovich.
Instead of a Midwestern sojourn, however, Stipanovich had another idea: the west coast. So McLaughlin set out to see what he could do.
“We started looking around for some possibilities, availability that fit our schedule and was in an area where we could turn it into the trip where they could see some things,” McLaughlin said. Soon, he touched base with UC Riverside coach John Margaritis who then linked him up with his former assistant, CSU-Northridge coach Jason Flowers.
The games were scheduled, so it was then Christine McCollum’s turn to enter the picture. Director of Operations for the Quakers, McCollum worked with McLaughlin to plan out what the trip itself would look like.
In Hawaii a year ago, the team had a little longer together — a little over a week in the Aloha State. The shorter nature of the Los Angeles adventure meant fewer organized team events — there was the squad trip to Disneyland and some time together at Santa Monica pier — and more free time as individuals.
“Once you get into this kind of atmosphere, you want to give them a little bit of freedom to be a team and do their own thing and have fun doing that,” McCollum explained.
It wouldn’t be just the team making the cross-country trek, either. Once the itinerary was in place, McCollum sent it out to the players — who in turn got their families on board. The relaxed nature of the trip meant there was an opening for families to join their daughters — and almost a dozen parents made their own little vacation out of the Quakers’ two-game stint out West.
“The kids had a lot of down time, so we were able to mix basketball, vacation — the whole thing,” said Kate Ross, mother of junior guard Anna Ross.
While it’s not unusual for there to be a strong parental presence even for Penn’s road games, the chance to spend five days as a group was something a little more special.
“It combines all the elements,” Ross added. “You get a vacation. You get to know the other parents. You get to spend time in between the semesters with your own kids, and you get to know the other kids too.”
In Los Angeles, the team got to explore the town on its own. McLaughlin sees it as important — for on- and off-the-court reasons — that his team develop strong personal bonds. A trip like this is designed to do just that.
It always helps too when you walk away with a couple wins.
To be sure, on-court success helped put the Quakers in a good spot just before Princeton. But it’s the chance to spend time together that, in McLaughlin’s eyes, does more to make them a better team than any game or practice could.