By ANNA PITINGOLO, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA - The grind of a student-athlete includes balancing both athletics and academics, and sacrificing time at home, sometimes missing holidays due to practice or games. This year, while the Lady Lions won't be able to go home for Thanksgiving like their classmates, they will be able to get away from campus. Instead of partaking in their usual training in Happy Valley this week, the team hopped on a plane and traveled out west to California to play in the Radisson Chatsworth Thanksgiving Classic.
The team left for the Golden State on Monday in preparation for their game against Cal State Northridge on Friday night. The early departure was to allow ample time for the team to get acclimated to the time difference, and to get some practice time in California.
"The time change was definitely something to get used to," said junior Peyton Whitted. "I'm an early bird so I was up at 5 a.m. [on Tuesday], but the weather's been great, we got to see a lot of California, just got to get out a little bit and enjoy the area and also prepare for our games on Friday and Saturday."
While being away from family on Thanksgiving is nothing new to the veteran players, they don't mind it as much when they get to spend it with their second family, their teammates and coaches. It's a sacrifice worth making for the chance to travel and to play against different non-conference teams.
"To me, it feels the same since I'm going into my junior year," said Kaliyah Mitchell. "I consider this [team] my family, I get along with everybody, and we're with each other throughout the whole year so it's not really Thanksgiving away from family, it's just Thanksgiving with another family. I'm getting used to being away from my family in Georgia and being with my teammates for Thanksgiving."
With a young team, the Lady Lions are no strangers to working on their bonds as teammates, on and off the court. Being on the other side of the country together over the holidays has allowed them to strengthen that bond with each other. Whitted explained that even though they're always with each other on campus, being on a trip together in a different area with new things to do enhances that bonding experience.
playing basketball two hours out of the day, so the rest of the day is for us
to hang out with each other, and do whatever," Whitted said. "We went to the
mall on Tuesday, and while we were there everybody kind of stayed together. We
have time to go out to eat on our own, we don't have to eat in the hotel, so
we're able to get out and just do things together and then spend time with each
other in the hotel. We're all rooming with each other so it's been helping a
lot with that bonding time."
There is a lot to learn from playing in a tournament this early in the season, and the Lady Lions are looking forward to the opportunity use it as a gauge for where they need to be at the end of the season. With a similar layout to the Big Ten Tournament, the Thanksgiving Classic will be an invaluable experience for the team.
"What's going to help with us is we play Friday and Saturday, so it's going to be a quick turnaround for us," Whitted said. "We're probably not going to be able to practice in between both of those games so that's really similar to the Big Ten Tournament, [where] we play Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We're going to have a quick turnaround where we have to be locked in for the next game because we have less than 24 hours to get ready for our next opponent."
Mitchell shares a similar sentiment, also noting that the quick turnaround will also help them since there are no bye weeks during the regular season.
"It's getting us ready to play in January and February and throughout the rest of the season," Mitchell said. "And since we don't have any byes, it's something that I think is good just to show us that it's going to be tough to play games back-to-back so we'll have to bounce back day-by-day."
There is a split responsibility between players and coaches as they get ready to face new teams in the tournament. While players work on keeping their bodies in top form, coaches are scouting teams so everyone knows what to expect heading into the game.
"Our coaches do a good job of giving us good scouting reports of the other teams, and they help us get prepared that way," Whitted said. "On our hands, mentally and physically, we have to make sure we're resting well and getting a good nights sleep because, with the time difference, we might play early, we might play late so we have to make sure we're getting the amount of rest we need in the days leading up to the tournament, and we're eating right so that our bodies are rejuvenated and ready to go no matter what time we play."
With the tournament starting the day after Thanksgiving, Whitted said it's all about choosing wisely how to fill up their plates for the holiday, and "knowing what we can and can't eat", and thinking 'is this going to help me be ready to play tomorrow?'"
The Radisson Chatsworth Thanksgiving Classic starts Friday with BYU and Georgia facing off at 5 p.m. PT. The Lady Lions join in on the action when they play Cal State Northridge at 7:30 p.m. PT. The consolation and championship games will take place on Saturday.