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On the Road with Women’s Basketball January 15, 2013

Posted by Sam Angell in Women's Basketball.
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Last Wednesday, the Drexel women’s basketball team hit the road for James Madison and their second Colonial Athletic Association game of the season. A long bus ride, the trip to JMU is usually an adventure in and of itself, but this time, Drexel was going to be spending the better part of a week on the road. By the time they got back, after over 20 hours on the bus, the Dragons were exhausted, thankful to be home, and had two more wins in their pockets after visiting JMU and UNC Wilmington.

Leaving after practice in mid-afternoon Wednesday, the Dragons sailed through Baltimore and only had minor issues getting around to the western side of the Washington beltway. Nevertheless, the bus did not pull into Harrisonburg until too late to make their scheduled stop at L’Italia restaurant, forcing the team to have the food delivered to the hotel. It was waiting for them when they arrived, and they ate and quickly went to bed in advance of their showdown with the Dukes on Thursday evening.

Along for the ride was Drexel Director of Compliance (and, as the coaching staff pointed out before and after the game, noted Good Luck Charm) Jamie Lindsay. Meanwhile, meeting the team in Harrisonburg was her former assistant, currently the Assistant Athletic Director at Youngstown State, Jesse Potter. A vocal and supportive presence in the stands during his three years at Drexel, Potter picked up right where he left off when Drexel took the court at the JMU Convocation Center on Thursday evening.

A normal day on the road for the Dragons consists of breakfast in the morning, usually around 9am, followed by shootaround at the opposing gym later in the morning. After fine tuning the plans for that night and running some basic drills, everyone on the team – everyone in the travel party, really – closes practice by attempting a halfcourt shot. This time, it was Associate Head Coach Amy Mallon who hit the shot, the first attempt of the day. It was a good thing hers went in, as no one else could do better than hit off the rim.

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After shootaround, the team returns to the hotel where the players get off their feet for a few hours. They reconvene four hours prior to gametime for the pregame meal, which almost inevitably consists of a chicken dish, pasta, salad and bread. Finally, the team departs for the game sometime between 2 hours and 90 minutes before gametime, depending on how far they have to go to get to the gym.

That night, Drexel got one of the most dramatic wins in program history, trailing nearly the entire game before Hollie Mershon hit two free throws with four seconds left to give the Dragons their first and only lead of the night, 48-46.

The locker room was jubilant, and Head Coach Denise Dillon’s press conference, also featuring Mershon, was light-hearted after the stunning victory. Drexel went back to the hotel in time for several team members to watch their new favorite show, Scandal on ABC.

The next morning, the Dragons woke up and said good bye to Lindsay and Potter, who were not going on Part Two of the journey with the team. Then, they went back to the arena for practice before hitting the road for a six-plus hour bus ride to Wilmington.

It was after 7:00 p.m. by the time the bus rolled into Wilmington, and the Dragons went straight for the home of Janet and Barry Burkholder, Drexel alums whose name now graces the Athletics Hall of Fame outside the main entrance of the DAC. There, the team enjoyed a great home-cooked meal courtesy of Mrs. Burkholder. After dinner, the team gathered in the Burkholders’ living room, where Mallon took her spot at the piano and the team – particularly Mershon and Abby Redick – made up lyrics to the songs she played and enjoyed their evening as a team.

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A day off in Wilmington on Saturday saw the team go to the beach for an extended lunch, followed by practice at UNCW’s Trask Coliseum. On Sunday, the Dragons got back to work on the court, holding off a pesky Seahawks team 64-51.

As the team gathered in the locker room postgame, Dillon told her team that she had good news and bad news. The team requested the bad news first. “Our flight’s been canceled,” she told them, referring to the 5:30 direct flight to Philadelphia the team had been scheduled to take. “So we’re busing back to Philadelphia.” This was bad news indeed, except for freshman Rachel Pearson, who has never been a fan of flying in the first place. The good news, though was that “we get to spend more time together!”

Nine hours more, in fact, as the team loaded up on supplies at Wal Mart and hit the road for Philadelphia. The team got in around 1:00 a.m., tired but satisfied after a successful conference road trip.

“Getting those two wins was big for us, and it was very encouraging to see us come out focused and ready to play, particularly on Sunday,” Dillon said after the games. “That could have been a trap game for us, coming off a big win and with everyone excited to get back home. But we focused on the task at hand and took care of business.”

Dillon cited the leadership of Mershon and important contributions from senior Renee Johnson-Allen, junior Fiona Flanagan and senior Nicki Jones over the week. She noted that a road trip like that removed all the distractions of home life in Philadelphia, and kept the team together for important bonding time that would help them down the road.

The Dragons are off to a strong start in 2013 as they look to accomplish some lofty team goals. If they can finish strong in March, the Dragons can look back on this week on the road as an important time when they were able to come together on the court and enjoy each other off it, building a team chemistry they will need to become champions.

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