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The Harvard women’s basketball team completed its Tour de France with a Tour de Force, posting an impressive 6-0 record against professional teams in the area.
The Crimson spent the waning days of August—from August 15-28—playing two Division I clubs in Paris, Lyon and Switzerland, as the European teams prepared to start the season.
As per NCAA regulations, Harvard can only make a European trip every four years, but the Crimson has not been able to go in recent years due to a school-imposed moratorium for fund-raising.
After that suspension was lifted, Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith felt that this year would be the best use of the opportunity because the Crimson returns all but one player—former captain Kate Ides ’03—from last year’s Ivy championship squad.
“When I started in 1982, [I chose to take the team to Europe] because it really helps,” Delaney-Smith said. “It’s clearly a result of playing together and creating this bond because you’re traveling in a foreign country.”
The trip was funded through donations from friends, family and alumni, as well as money raised during a phonathon last year. Each player also contributed 500 dollars, except the incoming freshmen who did not attend.
Harvard had ample time to go sightseeing and shopping, especially because the team did not have to worry about practicing. The coaches accidentally forgot to bring extra balls, so the only time the team spent playing basketball was during its games.
However, the Crimson was still able to dominate even without practice, aside from the five days they spent training at Harvard beforehand, and without junior center Reka Cserny.
Cserny was only able to join Harvard for a few days because she was playing in the European Championships with the Hungarian national team.
“We had some big wins without Reka which, again, is wonderful for this team to know that—God forbid that we have to have any regular-season games without her—we’re capable, we’re deep enough, we’re strong enough to handle some injuries,” Delaney-Smith said.
The Crimson was able to adjust when men’s basketballs were used instead of women’s and gained a lot of experience by competing against older players, whose ages ranged from 18 to 32.
“There were a few games that we did not play as well as we could have, but that was part of the learning experience, too,” said co-captain Hana Peljto.
The trip gave Delaney-Smith an opportunity to try out various combinations of players, and all of the women shared time on the court.
The usual starters were Peljto, junior guard Rochelle Bell, senior guard Bev Moore, co-captain Tricia Tubridy and sophomore forward Maureen McCaffery.
Delaney-Smith also noted that Peljto, who has the potential to play professional basketball, was able to make important connections in France. The games gave her exposure that will be help her find contacts if she decides to pursue a professional career.
“France loved her, so as we went and played some of the Division I schools in France, I think she formed a reputation over there,” Delaney-Smith said. “When she chooses to play professionally, I think she’s going to look at France, and hopefully there’s a network of people that we can get back to and get her a spot over there.”
And while the trip helped the players get comfortable on the court, there were situations off it that also helped team unity.
“The trip was a great team-bonding experience,” Peljto said. “We spent a lot of time together touring important historical places and looking at the beautiful scenery in Europe.”
According to sophomore guard Jessica Holsey, “French people aren’t as snooty as most people think.”
But the Crimson players still had to contend with culture shock as they tried to figure out what to eat on top of adjusting to the different playing styles of the European club teams.
All of the players kept daily journals to record everything they saw and experienced, including last summer’s record-breaking heat wave and long bus rides from the hotel to the games. They learned how not to get pick-pocketed as they visited laundry list of tourist havens, including the Eiffel Tower, the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Louvre.
The team also got in extra workouts swimming in Lake Lucerne and climbing the Swiss Alps in Switzerland.
“It was absolutely incredible—we took a pulley-type train straight up halfway up the mountain,” said Bell of the Alps. “Then we got out and were chair-lifted up in twos to the top of the mountain. The chair lift was rather frightening considering we were thousands of feet up in the air. As [sophomore Shana Franklin and I] were going up the chair lift, we labeled different sections of the Alps below us as ‘dangerous,’ ‘painful’ and ‘certain death.’”
But perhaps the most trying physical challenge came in a small—albeit biting—form.
Bell and Moore suffered mosquito bites covering their entire bodies after they made the mistake of opening their window to combat the heat.
“It was about 105 degrees,” Bell explained. “We were just about suffocating trying to sleep through the heat and the entirely French-speaking television shows. So we opened the window, which had no screen, against the advice of the hotel staff and laid in bare-minimum clothing trying to fall asleep.
“When we woke up, the French rap was still blazing on the TV, and Bev and I were covered head-to-toe in bug bites!”
Bug bites aside, the mix of playing basketball and touring Europe helped the team grow closer. The journals of the trip have since been copied and collated so the team has a record of every member’s experience.
“I’m sure there are parts of the trip that aren’t in this journal for my eyes, but I think this is a very disciplined team, a very committed team,” Delaney-Smith said. “They know what they’re able to accomplish this year.”
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