Photo Story: Women's hoops retreat

Looking down on the world from 35 feet in the air provides a different view on life. The women's basketball team hopes that perspective will help them to extend their season by just one more weekend past the Sweet 16 where the past two seasons have come to an end.

Summer for the women's basketball team usually means summer school classes, basketball camps, summer strength and conditioning workouts, pickup games, and a little time at home with families.

The summer of 2005 had all of the usual activities, but the highlight of the summer was a new experience for the team. After holding a car wash in June to raise the money for the trip, the team went on a team-building retreat late in July.

"Basically the retreat was just a way for all of us to bond," said junior guard Cherish Stringfield as she talked about the retreat after returning to school for the fall semester.

Two full years together have already forged a bond among the juniors and the seniors. The upperclassmen wanted to continue to build on that closeness.

But even more so, they wanted to get a head start on extending that sense of family to the newcomers on the team.

The trip started off like any family weekend trip to the mountains. After arriving Friday night and checking into their cabin, they stocked up on groceries and movies.

On Saturday there was a shopping expedition to the outlet mall and hanging out at the pool. Each class took responsibility for cooking and serving a meal to the group. The freshmen on the team had dish duty for the whole weekend.

Then on Sunday came the highlight of the trip -- a high ropes course. That's where the 35 feet comes in.

The ropes course is a series of activities designed for two partners working together. So participants pair up, and one pair of partners goes through the course at a time.

Everybody wears a safety harness and is instructed in safety procedures before anyone begins. Then, while each pair works their way through the course, the rest of the group is spotting and belaying them to ensure their safety.

"We were on a tight wire up high, about 35 feet. You thought it would be easy from the looks of it," said Stringfield.

It didn't take long to change her mind.

The first challenge is simply getting from the ground to the tight wire 35 feet in the air. That requires climbing a tall pole, very much like a telephone pole. Each pair of partners is given three planks that fit into slots in the pole.

"You'd take these planks and you have to step on them and manually climb yourself all the way up to the pole," explained Stringfield.

"So you have to figure out a way to get both of you all the way to the top with three planks. Thirty-five feet in the air. Let's not forget that!"

"You have to keep putting them higher as you go," said senior guard Erica Grimaldi. "And you have to take them out and move them up. And then if you drop a block, then it's gone, and you have to do it with just two.

"It was pretty scary just because you're starting to get off the ground," Grimaldi said. "You're like, wait, why am I doing this? I don't want to do this!"

That was just the beginning.

"Once you got to the top, then you walked across the tight wire," explained Stringfield. "Basically you and your partner were facing each other and holding your hands above your heads. You would have to basically use each other's weight. When you had your hands up, you lean forward so both of your weights would be in the center.

"Then you have to slide across this rope seven or eight feet to the next platform. Then you wipe the sweat off and breathe for a second -- because you are 35 feet up in the air!

"And the second one was very similar. You have to do the same thing except that you both are beside each other and you have to find a way to go about seven or eight feet more on the tight wire using only each other. You have to come up with a plan with a way to get across."

After that there were three more challenges, and then the chance for some fun.

"Then at the very end, you have a choice if you want to get dropped. You're on this platform that's even higher. It's like 50 feet up," explained Grimaldi. "Basically you're sitting down and the thing just drops out from under you. It just drops. You're just straight down. Then it catches you and you swing."

The team hopes that the lessons that they learned on the retreat will pay benefits on the basketball court.

"Being that high in the air you couldn't help but be nervous or scared, but we all finished it," Stringfield said.

"We all went through with it. Nobody quit. It was tough. It was tough but we all faced our fears.

"It was basically about strategy, trust and teamwork and knowing that you're going to have to count on somebody else to get through something and placing all your trust in somebody else's hand at times.

"At the end of the day, our guide talked to us about how this would help on the basketball court, and we all had to go around and give examples of how trusting someone would apply on the court," she continued.

"And I think that's going to help us to get to our one more weekend. That's what we're trying to do."

Click on images to see a larger version.

All photos courtesy of Erica Grimaldi.

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