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If you thought the Lakeland College women's basketball team hung up its shoes after wrapping up the regular season at the end of February - guess again.
A total of 10 members of the squad hit the hardcourt post-Northern Athletics Conference Tournament and continued to practice in anticipation of the two games they played in London, England. The games were part of a trip the Muskies took to London and Florence, Italy, from March 7-17 along with head coach April Arvan and Lakeland professor Dr. Linda Tolman's London Theater Trip class.
The women's basketball team had originally planned to join Tolman's class for the trip in December, 2001, but following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the team opted to cancel the trip due to concerns over flying overseas.
"We tried to connect with Linda Tolman's program to make the trip and play basketball games five years ago," Arvan explained. "But 9/11 happened and some parents got a little nervous about traveling overseas at that time so we had to cancel. We rescheduled it for the following August, but then we lost some players to graduation and we only took four or five girls. We weren't able to play games, but they got the academic experience."
This year's trip allowed the team to further its season by a few weeks, and give the Muskies an idea of what the team will be like next year as they played without soon-to-be graduated seniors Jenna Boehm, Danielle Duranceau and Amanda Thielmann. The squad was also without the services of freshman starting guards Megan Chart, who suffered a knee injury before the NAC tournament, and KC Blahnik, who was in Tucson, Ariz., with Lakeland's softball team.
The remaining members of the squad and Arvan came together before leaving on the trip and set six goals based on athletic performance and team chemistry, from competing and improving their team shooting percentage to having fun as a team.
"Although we were missing all of our regular starters, it wasn't difficult for me as a coach to move ahead without those starters," Arvan said. "Of course, I missed their personalities, but it was exciting for those players who went to have a smaller roster and be able to play."
The Muskies split their games, winning the first, 65-48, over the Stratford Black Country Bears, England's Division II national team, and dropping the second, 85-46, to the Division I London Heathrow Acers, 85-46. However, Arvan was pleased with her team's effort and felt they accomplished all of their goals.
"I thought we competed in both games and did rather well," Arvan said. "We had the opportunity to continue to practice before we went and I saw some things we did in practice on the court. Also, everyone had the opportunity to play because we subbed five and five at a time to give everyone equal minutes. Whether we won or lost, I thought we competed the same and had some fun. I also got to see some things out of players that didn't get a lot of playing time this past season."
Those who got their opportunity to show what they bring to the table consisted of a host of freshmen including guards Nikki Commons and Terra Hiben and forwards Emily Agner, Katie Kilton, Kayla Moffatt and DeAnna Rettschlag.
"Although we didn't take statistics, I'm pretty sure DeAnna led us in scoring and rebounding in the first game, which was neat to see," Arvan said. "Also, Nikki Commons did some good things at the point guard position."
A few veterans also joined the freshmen in senior guard/forward Stacy Kraemer, junior guards Brenda Paulson and Allison Komaromy and sophomore guard Kasey Gussert.
"Players that typically get a lot of playing time, like Brenda Paulson and Kasey Gussert, played as steadily as they typically do," Arvan said. "But overall, everyone worked hard and did good things. Everybody contributed in some capacity and helped create an overall good team effort."
Paulson agrees that the team adjusted well to playing without its regular starters, but cited some difficulties she and her teammates had on dealing with some of the different international rules, such as the 24-second shot clock with eight seconds to get the ball over half court.
"During the second game we had more of a problem with the eight second backcourt rule," Paulson said. "They were also really tall. I'm one of the taller guards and their whole team was all taller than me, which isn't what we're used to."
Although the games were fun for players and coach alike, the end was emotional since Arvan had told the team prior to leaving that she was stepping aside as head coach of the women's basketball team after 13 years.
"This whole experience, as far as my role changing within the program, has been so surreal that nothing has really had a chance to hit me yet," Arvan said. "I never really looked at it going into the trip that 'This is the last game I'll coach' because I hope I'll still be able to be involved in some way, shape or form.
"After the second game, I gave Brenda and Allison a hug and at that time I left the gym because at that point something did hit me and I had to grab my composure. To have to wrap everything up with this group of individuals was emotional, especially for Allison and Brenda because they are seniors and I truly appreciate them so much and what they have given to our program.
"I had another moment when we got home and were getting our luggage off the bus in front of the Wehr Center, one of the travelers said 'It was really neat to see you coach your last game,' and that's probably another moment where it registered. Daily I have misty eyes thinking about it, but as far as a defining moment of 'Wow, this was it,' I haven't had that yet."
Paulson and her teammates also found it difficult to think of the games as their last with Arvan as their head coach.
"The first game was alright and like any other game, but during the last game it kind of hit home because it was literally our last game with her," Paulson said.
Although the thought of entering next season with a new coach is daunting, Paulson is keeping a positive take on the situation.
"I've done things one way for three years in this system and I'll have one year of my career where the situation is something new," she said. "It would be easier if I was a freshman or a sophomore, but we'll get through it."
Although the trip marks the culmination of a successful head coaching era for Arvan, her favorite remembrance of the trip did not take place on the basketball court, but at a vineyard in Florence.
"It was at the last part of the event where we had lunch at a winery with the whole group all together," she said. "We sat around and talked, the scenery was beautiful and it just really wrapped up the tour very well."
Arvan is also able to leave the experience satisfied that no loose ends were left untied in her final Lakeland head coaching experience.
"I think the tour itself far outreached all of our expectations," Arvan said. "It was so awesome and it was such a great experience that we were able to nail every single goal. I think it also really helped us bond. I learned a lot about everybody, especially the freshmen because we were able to spend so much time together. Having the announcement made on a Monday (that she was stepping aside) and leaving for the trip on a Wednesday was just great timing. I really think that our chemistry is stronger and I believe we are a tighter group. Hopefully we will have even stronger leadership as well through this whole experience because we got to know each other at a different level."
The tour was also an all-around good experience for the team and the rest of the group. Everyone involved had the opportunity to benefit from the academic experience of the trip, taking advantage of the many aspects of European culture between their time in London and Florence by getting in some theater exposure and sightseeing.
Paulson enjoyed her first exposure to European culture.
"Sightseeing was amazing," she said of the group's travels to Stratford, London and Italy. "We went to a Tuscan dinner that was really good and it was also neat seeing how the people and culture in Europe are different."
"The trip really helped our players connect in this time of transition," Arvan said. "We still are one and we still are whole."