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Dec. 5, 2012

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“Bienvenidos a Puerto Rico.”

There were signs throughout the airport welcoming the team to the Caribbean island. For the most part, however, the trip was like any other.

“We get up, eat breakfast, have study hall for an hour and a half,” Kelsey Wolfe said, describing a standard day on the trip. “Then we head over to the arena to practice for a couple of hours. Just like a normal trip.”

Several of the players, including Ataira Franklin, even had to take a quiz at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning.

There were some decided advantages to playing in Puerto Rico. The team hotel was adjacent to Carolina Beach, a long stretch of warm, white sand and calm, blue ocean that flanks the Isla Verde resort area.

“Walking outside of the hotel and being able to go to the beach is pretty awesome,” said Jaryn Garner.

The trips to the beach were scheduled into the players’ packed schedules.

“Everything is pretty much on a time schedule except for a few free hours in the afternoon,” said Sarah Beth Barnette. “I have been going to the beach every chance I get. The ocean is my favorite place in the world.”

Another favorite activity of the team was stopping off at the cafe right on the edge of the beach to get a special tropical treat.

“My favorite part has been getting smoothies,” Wolfe said. “They are really good, especially the piña colada.”

In addition to the easy access to the Atlantic Ocean, the team also had sprawling pools to splash around in. Several members of the team took advantage of the shallow waters to try to teach Sarah Imovbioh how to swim.

“At first we started teaching her freestyle,” Barnette said. “She wasn’t really getting the breathing pattern with it, so we mixed it up with a little breast stroke. At first, she was holding her breath under water. Now she knows to breathe out and she has been doing pretty well.”

The team, along with the friends and family who had traveled down to Puerto Rico for the tournament, got together on Thanksgiving to celebrate with a turkey dinner with all the traditional trimmings, including pumpkin pie.

After finishing the tournament, the players had a free morning on Sunday to take in the fun of the beach and the ocean, with everyone on the team jumping into the surf to have some fun.

The trip was filled with memories of a lifetime: swim lessons, failed attempts at chop-sticking at a Japanese restaurant, late-night Catch Phrase tournaments, giant lizards at shoot around, frozen drinks, sunny days, white sand, warm blue waters. And basketball.

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