With a season that spans both spring and fall semesters, the members of the women’s basketball team don’t have the opportunity to spend a semester studying abroad like most Cornell students. However, for 10 days this past June, head coach Dayna Smith and the Red had the chance to learn about the culture of Italy and the nuances of the international style of basketball.
“It was unbelievable … just to see the awe in our player’s eyes,” Smith said. “We got to travel to four different cities [and] play four games. A lot of our players have never really traveled out of their home state or the East Coast. It was nice to experience it with them. We don’t really get to travel in that way.”
Smith led her players on a journey through Como, Pisa, Florence, Venice and Rome. Along the way, the Red took on four semi-professional ball clubs, including the Starlight Valmadrera Basketball Club, ASD Florence, the Giants Marghera Basketball Club and Fortitudo Pomezia. Before crossing the Atlantic, the team spent five days in Ithaca preparing to play by international rules, including the use of a 24-second shot clock and a trapezoid lane.
“[It was a] great experience for them as people and in basketball,” Smith said. “It was terrific. It was more up-tempo, they play a different style [with a] 24-second shot clock, like the NBA. It was unbelievable, it was like a blur.”
The fast-paced games were played between a whirlwind of sightseeing excursions and ventures into Italian culture. In Como, the team took a gondola ride to the top of Brunante Mountain before winning its opening game, 78-63, against the Starlight squad. Senior guard Claire Perry led the way for the Red with 19 points.
The next stop was Pisa, where the Red visited the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa before taking to the hardcourt against ASD Florence. Despite a 74-68 defeat, Smith took some positives away from the contest.
“It was a good time to experiment with defenses and offenses, so it was nice. It was not a pressure situation, but the competition was good because they’re semi-pro and it was just a different experience than what you have here,” she said. “And for [the Cornell team] to be able to spend that much time together — there was a lot of team bonding and good friendships made.”
Perry was once again the high scorer, while juniors Lindsay Krasna and Megan Hughes also broke into double figures.
The Pisa game was followed by a three-day break from basketball that was filled with visits to Florence and Venice before taking on the Giants. Behind a 20-point effort from Perry, the Red earned the 83-58 win.
“I thought [sophomore guard] Kayleen [Fitzsimmons] and Claire played terrific over there,” Smith said. “There was a sense of urgency with every possession … It was just very up-tempo, we had a lot of early offense. There were a lot of assists, there was a lot of playmaking, so it was nice. Defensively through, we changed some things over the four games and worked on trapping out of on-ball screens, we worked on our press, we worked on a couple different zone looks.”
The final stop was Rome, with visits to the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and the Spanish Steps on the Red’s itinerary. The basketball portion of the trip also concluded on a high note, with the Red dominating Fortitudo Pomezio, 77-43.
The experiences on the court and off will not leave the Red anytime soon. Half of the trip was funded by Becky Morgan ’60, who took a similar trip to Paris when she was fourteen years old that she credits with changing her life and showing her the opportunities available to her. Many years later, after a term in the Senate, and a job as a CEO of a Silicon Valley company, she is now the endower of Smith’s position and able to provide a similar opportunity for another group of young women.
“There was one player, I won’t mention her name because it will embarrass her, but we were walking by a cathedral that’s thousands of years old. And she’s looking up and she’s just in awe, and she took a deep breath, and I said, ‘It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?’ And she said, ‘I don’t know how I can thank people enough or express how I feel right now for this opportunity. I would’ve never done this in my life, I would’ve never been able to do this,’” Smith recounted. “It just really touched them. They saw things from a different perspective. … That was fun to experience that with them.”
Red adds five new faces
Although unforgettable, the trip to Italy is in the past and the Red has now turned its attention to the season ahead. Five new players join the roster for the 2006-07 season, including four freshman and one junior college transfer.
Junior Moina Snyder will keep the international flavor alive long after the team’s return from Italy. Originally from Nice, France, Sndyer spent two years at Umpqua Community College in Oregon before joining the Red this season. A 6-1 forward, Smith expects her to threaten from the perimeter as well as the inside.
“[She’s] very different, not only for our team but for our league,” Smith said. “She can really see the floor for her size, she’s very long. She’s going to have to adapt a little bit to the physical style, but other than that I think she’s going to bring another dimension … she’s a forward that really plays out on the perimeter.”
The freshmen make up what Smith describes as a “feisty” and competitive quartet. Lauren Benson, Allie Fedorowitz, and Virginia McMunigal will join the guard ranks, while Molly McGue promises to give the Red an inside threat to lighten the load for the 2005-06 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, sophomore Jeomi Maduka.
Benson will challenge Fitzsimmons for minutes at the point guard position. At 5-6, she brings speed, defense, and court vision to the Red.
“She’s tough as nails,” Smith said. “She’s someone that plays a little bit quicker of a pace than probably all of our players. She’s like a little water bug.”
Fedorowitz, who hails from outside Philadelphia, stands 5-10 and uses her height at the guard position to dominate as a 3-point shooter.
“She does all the dirty work,” Smith said. “She’s really gutsy and scrappy.”
McMunigal, a 5-9 guard and also from Philadelphia, will be counted on by Smith to make an immediate impact on the scoreboard.
“Virginia’s a scorer. She can just put the ball in the hoop so many different ways,” Smith said. “She’s a great 3-point shooter, she can put the ball on the floor. She’s someone who’s just a pure athlete.”
The lone freshman forward, McGue stands 6-1 and is originally from Hindsdale, Ill.
“Molly’s a small forward — I think if she was just an inch or two taller she would have been on a lot of people’s radar,” Smith said. “She’s someone that can score. She’s like a garbage collector. She finds a way to get the ball in her hands, she’s a magnet.”