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Road Trip Diaries: SF to SA and back again in 40 hours

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The San Francisco Dons decided to Mess with Texas with in-and-out road trip to the Lone Star State

Mike Johnstone, USF Athletics

A road trip The San Francisco Dons decided to Mess with Texas with in-and-out road trip to the Lone Star State starts well before the airplane wheels leave the tarmac, but the ins and outs of planning a road trip are for a different day. On this day, we’ll start with the wheels of the bus going round and round – or shortly before.

Enter stage right, senior Mel Khlok to tell Julie Martin, Director of Basketball Operations, that there are no shooting shirts packed with the uniforms. After a few phone calls and some trips around the locker room, Julie saves the day and gets the shirts in time to make the trip. As the team runs to the bus through the rainy morning in San Francisco, the goal is clear – and it is attainable – to win. But that’s still 30 hours away.

Arriving at the terminal, the group check-in process ensues. A bag of bananas left in the bus-to-terminal transition causes a stir as Martin calls the driver, races back outside where the team disembarked and back to the check-in counter where we all realize she’s not looking for clothes, or uniforms, or anything that most would deem “important” but for a bagful of yellow fruit that was picked up by video coordinator Mike Johnstone after no one claimed it curbside.

Through security and into the terminal, the team grabs an airport breakfast and heads to the gate. Passers by ask who are all the women dressed in black warmups and where are they going. Whispers of, “Oh, they must be a basketball team,” are heard intermittently, particularly when the tallest troops traipse by.

Occupying nearly half of the flight of 54 people on a regional jet, the 26-member traveling party settles in for the direct connection between the city by the Bay and the heart of Texas, so the songs go. Upon arrival to the Lone Star State the group heads to the hotel to change for practice. Check in is followed by a session of treatments by the athletic trainer, Anastasia Doan, who turns the bedroom dresser into a training table for tape jobs.

Practice at the Convocation Center commences in earnest after the team huddles on the Roadrunner plastered on center court. Drills are run, scout is discussed and shooting contests are held as practice runs a few minutes long and dinner reservations are disrupted. Martin takes her mind off the late arrival to the River Walk by shooting baskets, swishing shot after shot from the left side of the court as the assistant coaches play on the opposite end of the hardwood.

When rolling up to the dinner destination, oohs and aahs at the glistening lights and decked out tree at the River Center precede the Italian feast that is furiously shoveled down by famished players. A spin around the canal concludes with a team picture before loading back on the bus, no time to see the landmark San Antonio is famous for. For views of the Alamo, the team has to rely on the Holiday Inn wall art.

Due in part to the time change, head coach Jennifer Azzi and crew modify the gameday schedule. Instead of shootaround slated for 8 a.m., or 6 a.m. pacific time, the women get a chance to “sleep in” until pregame at IHOP. Which means leaving the hotel at 7:45 California time.

“No pancakes!” Martin and Doan call out as the servers bring out the preordered meals. “Switch for toast,” they call to the table of 20. After the carb confusion, breakfast – or second breakfast for some – goes off without a hitch with the crew in and out in 45 minutes.

The driver busses back to the temporary hotel digs to rest up, tape up and pack up for the just past noontime call to check out and head to the arena. This trip isn’t for pleasure, and now less than 24 hours after touching down on the red dirt of Texas, the business is about to begin.

The game, led by the Dons for the first half flips in favor of Texas-San Antonio in the second when a 3-for-20 shooting slump plagues the offense. The Roadrunners grow the lead to seven with five minutes to play. But USF was ready for a run. After clawing back into the mix it was up to freshman Taylor Proctor to swish two from the line and send the game to overtime. And in overtime, it was up to Proctor yet again as she dropped in her first-ever buzzer-beater for the 61-60 win.

A road win – the first of the season for the Dons – and a dogpile, the first I’ve seen in my short time at USF – leave the home team licking their wounds after their first home loss. The business trip turned into pleasure after all.

Two flights later, an exhausted yet exuberant team arrives right back where they started in the early moments of Monday after the clock strikes midnight. But there is no rest for the weary. Wheels up at noon on Tuesday for the next business trip – Northridge awaits.