The longest road trip in UNM women’s basketball history begins bright and early Monday morning.
Players, coaches and staff will jet out of Albuquerque at 5:30 a.m. for a 10-day excursion to Italy that includes four exhibition games and plenty of, well, tourism.
“I’ve never had gelato,” Lobo junior Bryce Owens said, “so if I can find some vanilla, I’ll be good.”
Several Lobos said they are eager to take in the sights of Rome, Venice, Florence and the team’s other scheduled stops. Head coach Yvonne Sanchez is particularly looking forward to seeing Vatican City.
“It’s probably once in a lifetime for most of us,” senior Antiesha Brown said. “Let’s face it, Italy is not somewhere I can just up and go.”
The trip is certainly once in a college career for UNM’s players. NCAA rules allow collegiate athletic programs to travel internationally once every four years to compete in exhibition games. It is believed to be the first time UNM’s women’s basketball program has taken advantage of the opportunity.
The Lobos’ traveling party includes 26 people (players, coaches and staff) at a cost of $5,300 per person. A handful of friends and family members will pay their own way to accompany the team.
Most of the necessary funds were raised by the women’s basketball program and its 3 Point booster club, Sanchez said. The team also received fan donations and funds from UNM’s athletic department to cover the difference.
“We’ve done a lot of fundraising,” Sanchez said. “We used money we made from our banquet, saved money on (home) game guarantees, you name it. We’ve been preparing for this for over a year.”
UNM’s two walk-ons, Maddie Muraida and Marissa Perry, were required to do additional fundraising to make the trip, Sanchez said.
The tour will allow for team bonding and give the Lobos’ four incoming freshmen an opportunity to mesh with returnees. But the Lobos say their trip to Italy is not simply an extended vacation.
“We get to play basketball and represent America,” Brown said. “We’re looking to win.”
The Lobos are scheduled to play AS Vicenza, an Italian Series A2 team, on Thursday. Two days later they’ll face a team composed of players from the Pesaro All-Stars and Adriatic Sea Sirens. UNM’s final two games will be Aug. 12-13 against the Netherlands national team.
“These games don’t count on our record, but they’re a big deal to us,” Owens said.
HENDERSON LEAVES: Sophomore forward Tori Henderson has left the program and returned to her family’s Texas home. Henderson, who transferred from Missouri State last year, would have been eligible at midsemester. She began summer workouts with the Lobos but left Albuquerque when classes ended, Sanchez said.
“Tori was homesick and wanted to get back to Dallas,” Sanchez said. “We wish her well.”
Henderson’s departure leaves UNM with 13 active scholarship players. Guard Alex Lapeyrolerie will take a medical redshirt after undergoing leg surgery in May. Post Whitney Johnson will miss the season while serving a Mormon mission.
TAKING A LOOK: UNM had a pair of recruits watching Friday morning’s practice at the Davalos Center: Courtney Smith, a rising senior at Colorado’s Legacy High School, and Amaya Brown, a rising freshman at Cibola. Smith is a 6-foot-4 post who averaged 17.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks for the Lightning last season. She drove from the Denver area with her parents to make an unofficial campus visit. Brown, a 5-8 guard who is the daughter of former Lobo men’s standout Greg Brown, is coming off a strong summer with her New Mexico-Texas Heat Elite club team.