Today’s article is penned by Madison Dulaney, a Sophomore guard for Randolph-Macon College. Madison’s team recently traveled to Puerto Rico to play a pair of games and here she shares her experiences from the trip.
By Madison Dulaney
As the wheels glided across the runway, slowing to a halt, the anticipation reached a peak. The tournament in Puerto Rico had long been anticipated but no one knew just what to expect.
Spanish covered signs with the English underneath proved to be clue number one that we were no longer in the States. The language barrier proved to be problematic throughout the trip as other signs outside the airport rarely were accompanied by its English meaning.
A seemingly ordinary school bus pulled up to the curb to take us to our hotel, but we soon found out it was more like a bus straight out of “Pimp My Ride.” They were loaded with heavyset speakers that blasted Spanish hip-hop, putting everyone in the spirit of Puerto Rico. The heads bobbed to the beat and clapped along, soaking it all in.
The hotel was the temporary home to every team in the tournament, including a few swim teams who were doing winter training. On the ground floor resided several restaurants as well as the casino. The lobby was also decorated brilliantly with an assortment of plants and trees (which also ended up being the setting for a wedding during our trip). Although everyone was wrapped up in simply being in Puerto Rico, there were games to be played.
Before our arrival, we were told that we were playing in an “outdoor arena” for our first game. We really had no clue what to expect after hearing that description but as we pulled up to the gym, we got our first glimpse. The court was mostly enclosed but was, what they call, an “open-air” court. There were walls and bleachers, but the tops were open to the air. There was also a large opening in the wall along one of the baselines that provided a view of the ocean between the buildings. No air conditioning, just the breeze off the ocean to cool you.
The referees entered onto the court midway through warm-ups, with beer sponsorships stitched into their jerseys. We were definitely not in the States anymore. The NCAA doesn’t even allow the sale of alcohol during championships.
The biggest struggle of the game was the heat, given the open-air court. Staying hydrated was something that our coaching staff emphasized, especially since we are a small team (in number) compared to others. Our bench even spread out so that everyone could feel more of the breeze while they were resting.
The tournament included a trip to Old San Juan, as well as the El Yunque rainforest. Following our first game we took a short drive down the coast, which provided breath-taking views of the rocky coastline. We elected to go to the nearest fort, as there were several in the area. The fort sat along the top of the cliff with the ocean crashing onto the rocks below. We climbed to the highest point, which provided a view that a picture just couldn’t justify. After leaving the fort we were able to do some souvenir shopping before having our first experience with authentic Puerto Rican food.
The next day was an off day so we were able to spend the day at the rainforest. This was a favorite of many because, after a short hike, you were able to swim under the waterfall. The water was absolutely freezing but the woman who gave us our rules at the beginning assured us we would adjust and warm up quickly. Once we made it back to the bus and were on our way back down the mountain, we asked to stop at one of the lookouts that provided a view of the mountains with the ocean and white sands in the background.
As much fun as everyone was having, there was another game to be played, our final of the trip. The arena was very similar to the first, but with a hardwood floor (compared to what was more like rubber flooring for the first game). The game had a similar feel but was slightly cooler as it rained much of the game keeping the temperature comfortable.
Overall the experience was one of a kind. Who would have thought that playing for a Division III school would have provided an opportunity to play in such a unique tournament? Most people look at college sports and only see Division I, when the reality is that there are opportunities at all levels. Opportunities to travel and play the game on a stage you never even imagined.