There were no airports to rush off to, no midterms to get back for, no papers due the next day.
No, this wasn’t your typical road trip.
There was nothing ordinary about the experience Cal’s women’s water polo team recently went through.
The Bears recently returned from Kazan, Russia, where they competed at the 2013 World University Games. Cal was picked by USA Water Polo to represent the country at the event, marking the first time a singular college team was sent to compete at the games rather than a squad made up of hand-picked all-stars.
“It was the best trip that I’ve ever been on from the standpoint of coming together as a team,” Cal coach Richard Corso said. “We did everything together. The girls that we took on the trip, they’re pretty tight right now after going through that kind of experience. I was so excited every day. It was fantastic.”
The Bears were in Kazan for 16 days and played six matches. They also played a handful of scrimmages on their off-days. Cal played against some of the best teams in the world.
But even more significant was the bonding and chemistry the team developed during the trip. On a road trip during the regular season, the Bears are usually in and out of town quick. The World University Games allowed the team to travel together without the pressure and stress of schoolwork.
“When you’re on a road trip, the emphasis is getting in and out of town as quickly as you can so that you don’t miss time with school,” Corso said. “There was really no clock. You can take your time.”
On their way to Kazan, the Bears had a long layover in Moscow, so they visited Red Square while they waited. They also spent part of a day in Kazan touring the Kazan Kremlin and a mosque.
In addition to playing extra training matches on their days off, the Bears watched other water polo matches as well as other sports going on at the games.
“I think it helped us a lot because when we’re at school, the whole team is not living together,” Cal junior Missy Hale said. “We were there not just as players but as really good friends. That plays a big role in the pool because you have to trust your teammates.”
The Bears’ roster at the World University Games was made up of 13 players, including four of their incoming freshmen. Corso, associate head coach Matt Flesher, athletic trainer Ann Caslin and associate vice chancellor Erin Gore also made the trip.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most of us,” Hale said. “It was like a mini-Olympics. It was so surreal. Going through the opening and closing ceremonies was one of the coolest things I have hever seen. We were lucky to get this opportunity.”