Women's Basketball Gives Thanks for Bahamas Experience

Jan. 17, 2007

While Golden Knight fans and their families were gathered around the table sharing in Thanksgiving turkey and all its trimmings, the UCF women's basketball team traveled to Grand Bahamas Island to compete in the 2006 Junkanoo Jam and enjoy some Caribbean hospitality.

The trip was part of a long week of basketball for the Golden Knights with five games in nine days. In fact, the night before they traveled to Freeport, they played at Jacksonville, but with snow flurries in Central Florida, the team was ready for some Caribbean sun.

The players and staff had their first taste of the Bahamas on the night they arrived when they watched a dock vendor prepare a traditional conch salad and then sampled the traditional dish. Junior Lashaunda Slade enjoyed the taste so much that she would go back for a second helping later during the team's stay on the island.

Thanksgiving morning began with what easily became the highlight of the trip for the players as the team boarded a catamaran for their morning snorkeling tour. Senior Elizabeth Fieser, junior Diane Clarke, sophomore Jackie Akers and freshman Kristin Thomas were the first in the water, but they were soon joined by the other players - even those that had never ventured to try the sport before.

"That was the first time I'd ever been snorkeling," said senior guard Francine Houston. "Being in the water - the Bahamas water - was probably the best part of the trip. It was exciting."

Some elected to remain onboard, though. "I really loved being near the ocean and how clear it is, but I'm not a big fan of swimming," said Slade. "I didn't go snorkeling, but I could still see the fish because the water was so clear. I still feel that I got the most from the experience because it was great just to hang out with my teammates on the boat."

Fieser, Clarke and Akers later took turns on the waterslide, while Clarke and Akers also attempted the climbing wall at the boat's stern.

The trip wasn't entirely a vacation and the players discovered that during a tough session on the hardwood. Because of their unplanned late arrival on Wednesday, the Golden Knights had their first practice at the tournament site on the campus of St. George's High School Thursday afternoon.

The evening brought all eight teams participating in the Junkanoo Jam's two divisions together for the Thanksgiving banquet. Each captain, including UCF senior Keunta Miles, spoke prior to the dinner. After dessert, the players were able to participate in the Junkanoo Jam island tradition that the tournament adopted as its namesake. The colorful parade of Bahamians and the infectious music they played enticed many members of the crowd to join them - including Slade and several players from Baylor.

"That was a great night," said Slade. "The food was good. It was fun getting out there and dancing with the Junkanoo Jam. I liked getting to meet different people from the other teams."

The tournament games tipped off Friday afternoon as South Dakota State defeated Virginia followed by the Golden Knights loss to No. 15 ranked Baylor. In Saturday's consolation game, UCF fell to the Cavaliers. Baylor eventually won the Lucaya Division title.

There was no denying that the Golden Knights were disappointed in their performance, but the players acknowledge that they learned some lessons.

"We learned that if we had really been able to play our game that we could have beaten those teams. We know we could have won those games if we could have put everything together but we just didn't do that," said Houston. "My favorite memory from the trip was actually getting the chance to play teams like Baylor and Virginia. It was a good opportunity to plays those games."

"Baylor and Virginia provided good competition," agreed Akers, whose parents were two of the UCF fans cheering from the stands. "Watching them made us realize that we need to work together more as a team."

The trip to the Bahamas was a step toward that very goal. Seeing the way that athletes encouraged those less experienced to take the plunge during the snorkeling trip was just one example.

Perhaps Houston summed up the Junkanoo Jam best, saying, "The Bahamas trip was the key for us to get us pumped up and bring us together for the rest of the season."