By Lily Hiser, Duke Sports Information
DURHAM, N.C.-- The Duke women’s basketball team began its season in August by playing three games during a nine-day tour throughout Italy from August 14-23. To prepare, the Blue Devils held 10 practices on campus before embarking on their trip to Rome, Florence, Bologna, Siena and Venice. These extra, early practices were essential to freshmen standouts Mikayla Boykin, Jade Williams, Jayda Adams, and Madison Treece as they transitioned into their new roles as college athletes.
“Being on campus early prepared me for the season because I got to get in the extra conditioning,” said freshman Mikayla Boykin. “College basketball a faster game than high school, so I feel like coming here early prepared me for that and it also helped me pick up speed.”
The freshmen players’ early presence on Duke University’s campus awarded them with the opportunity to get stronger and faster with time spent in the weight room and other training facilities, as well as a chance to begin to learn the plays. This experience was critical in the Blue Devils’ success overseas, which culminated in an overall record of 2-1, as they defeated both the Netherlands, 84-66, and the Italian All-Stars, 119-33, before falling to Celje, 78-65, after a competitive contest.
The games themselves gave the freshmen an invaluable opportunity to experience college-level play before the start of the season.
“I’ve learned that it’s very intense and it’s not like anything I’ve ever played against,” commented freshman Jade Williams on the nature of the college-level game.
This drastic shift in tempo and intensity was something that the freshmen could experience early, giving them a unique perspective going into the regular season games.
For Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie, the trip gave her the opportunity to observe in-game dynamics of the team, particularly the freshmen.
“I learned that the freshmen are impact freshmen, that they have experience, and they have a lot to offer this team,” said McCallie. “As a unit, I learned that the team is interesting in how they all get along and how they mix and match very well. If they’re a wardrobe, they’re very flexible and they’ve got lots of different colors and combinations that go together.”
The experience of the freshmen and their ability to mix in to the already flexible team would be critical in the final game, when the Blue Devils faced Celje, a skilled professional team, while lacking three veteran players and potential starters. Although the game ultimately added in a loss for the Blue Devils, the contest was hard fought, and demonstrated to McCallie the hustle and fighting spirit of the team, even while lacking veteran leadership.
Outside of the invaluable game experience the Blue Devils received, the trip to Italy also provided an excellent opportunity for team bonding and learning outside the court. For some, like freshman Madison Treece, the trip may have been their first time out of the United States. However, for all the Blue Devils, regardless of whether this was their first international trip, the opportunity to experience new cultures was an exciting and memorable experience. Sharing it with their teammates made it an even better adventure, as the Blue Devils were able to strengthen their team dynamics off the court.
“I think going to Italy really brought us together as a unit and made us a lot closer” commented freshman Jayda Adams, “and we really appreciate each other for that.”
As the freshmen Blue Devils head into the start of their season, they will build upon the game experience they gained in Italy, the extra practice and strengthening time, and the friendships formed abroad. An early start to the season and a unique opportunity has specially prepared each freshman for her start as a Duke basketball player.