‘There is no way to replicate this at home’: Six women’s college basketball teams share memories, lessons from foreign tours

Note: This is a list of the teams I spoke with about their foreign tours this summer. It is not a comprehensive list of all teams taking foreign tours in 2019.
Note: This is a list of the teams I spoke with about their foreign tours this summer. It is not a comprehensive list of all teams taking foreign tours in 2019. /
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Oregon State (Italy)

The Oregon State Beavers were the last of the six teams to head overseas, departing on August 20 for Italy. They played four games, including two against professional teams in the top division of Italian basketball, Serie A, and came away with a 4-0 record. That qualifies as an auspicious start for the Beavers, who are widely considered a top-10 team heading into the 2019-20 season. Head coach Scott Rueck explained, “To see this team problem solve, come together, play enthusiastically, and then to kind of find their identity defensively … has been special to watch.”

Senior guard Mikayla Pivec, a preseason All-Pac-12 selection, agreed with her coach’s assessment. “What I learned [in Italy] is that this group has a chance to do some special things … I’m excited about what this year’s gonna be and looking forward to getting better each day with this group.” She added that the team “is probably one of the more athletic teams that we’ve had in terms of running the court,” which, combined with the team’s size, could be a daunting prospect for opponents. The Beavers have four players standing 6-6 or taller, and redshirt freshman Andrea Aquino and true freshman Jelena Mitrovic are each 6-9. “People definitely stared at us in Italy,” Pivec recalled.

Off the court, the team visited Naples, Rome, Florence, Venice, and Como. The itinerary had a remarkable range of activities, including taking a funicular railway to the village of Brunate, traveling to Venice by water taxi, biking through the medieval town of Lucca, experiencing a bruschetta and pizza tasting at the Naples City Center, and relaxing on the beaches of Positano and Amalfi. The team also got to shop in Florence, which Pivec called “the mecca for shopping”; she came away with some handmade bracelets, a leather purse, Italian chocolate, and a sweatshirt. And, like the Tennessee Lady Vols, a few Beavers made time for a more familiar experience, dining at the Hard Rock Café after getting their fill of Italian pizza and pasta.

Each member of Oregon State’s travel party seemed to have a different favorite sight. Rueck said that the Amalfi Coast set the tone for the tour by wowing the team early on in the trip. Pivec loved the Sistine Chapel, junior Aleah Goodman enjoyed seeing the statue of David, and sophomore Jasmine Simmons was partial to the Vatican. Meanwhile, senior Janessa Thropay crossed an item off her bucket list by tossing a coin into the Trevi Fountain.

The team was also clearly moved by and appreciative of the history it was witnessing. The players had done group research projects on Italy before the trip, so they were eager to see what they had studied. Thropay said that she had been looking forward to seeing the Colosseum because “we grew up learning about it in our history.” Freshman Taylor Jones added, “I think it was very important not only coming here and seeing all the stuff, but knowing why it’s here … It makes it more beautiful knowing the history of it and knowing how much work was put into making it this pretty and how long it’s stayed here.”

Using video from the trip and interviews with Rueck and his players, Oregon State created a nearly ten-minute documentary of its trip. (Fans can watch it on the Oregon State website or on YouTube.) In it, redshirt junior Destiny Slocum says, “[The trip has] been nothing but amazing and we’ve been able to create so much camaraderie between all of us so early. It’s only August, but it feels like we’ve been in October, in preseason, just grinding away.” The Beavers hope that all that hard work and a trip halfway around the world will lead to an equally amazing basketball season—perhaps even to a Pac-12 title and a Final Four berth.