The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For the 2023-24 X-Women Basketball team, that first step was taken on a court in the hills of Barcelona, Spain where the team spent 8 days for their pre-season training camp and exhibition tour. This international adventure provided the team with invaluable experiences both on and off the court.
The tour commenced with the X-Women's first practice on Wednesday, Aug. 23 and it was clear from the outset that the latest edition of the X-Women is built to defend. "We struggled to keep teams from scoring last year, so we prioritized gritty, defensive-minded players with a history of winning in our recruiting class and emphasized this with the returners as well. From the first session it was clear that this group has an appetite to get in a stance and grind out stops. I'm optimistic that we will carve out an identity as a team that is uncomfortable to play against," commented second-year head coach Matt Spencer.
After just three on-court training sessions and three workshops, the X-Women travelled to neighbouring Mataró for an exhibition game against Boet Mataró who play in the Liga Femenina Challenge – Spain's second-highest level. The game was a back-and-forth affair early, with the X-Women claiming a 9-8 lead after the quarter and trailing 25-22 at the half. The StFX offense sputtered in the third quarter, but the X-Women managed to claw back within single-digits thanks to a 5-0 run by 2nd year guard Krissy Cooper to open the final frame. In the end, the hosts came away with a 63-37 win.
StFX was led offensively by senior point guard Katie Upham (9 points), Cooper (7 points), and four each from Jaya D'Souza, Liz Kennedy, and newcomer Shannon Neita. "I was pleased with our effort against Mataró. We were united defensively, our rotations were there when we got beat, and we came away with a clear picture of what needs to get better. They're an excellent team, very experienced with an average age over 27 years, and for us to stay competitive for 35 minutes was nice to see."
Following their hard-fought loss to Boet Mataró, the X-Women Basketball team geared up for their second exhibition game against a Lima-Horta squad that features eight former NCAA Division 1 players, along with Irene Avellaneda who is on loan from Barcelona after representing Spain in the U19 FIBA World Cup last month. The jitters were obvious from the start, as X struggled with Lima-Horta's length. "We turned it over a bit and did a poor job of boxing out, so they gapped us pretty early," commented Upham. "I know the score doesn't show it, but we did a lot of the things we set out to do – they're just so long and talented that every mistake got exposed. It was a cool experience and I know that we'll be a better team because of it."
The 75-28 final was lopsided, but Spencer tried to keep things in perspective, "We knew this was going to be an extremely tough game. Lima-Horta are expected to win their league this year and earn a promotion to LF1, so they weren't messing around. Ultimately, we got to see what the next level of basketball looks like and that's an experience our players will have for a lifetime. Nobody wants to get blown out, but I think there was a lot of learning that happened which is going to help us moving forward." The X-Women were again led offensively by Cooper (7 points), while Kennedy, Laia Torrent, and Reegan Bell each chipped in with 4 points.
Off the court, the X-Women embraced the rich culture of Barcelona, immersing themselves in the city's history, architecture, and food. Whether it was a tour through the iconic Parc Güell, or visiting the equally well-known Sagrada Familia, the team had numerous chances to build chemistry off the hardcourt – a quality that will undoubtedly contribute to their success in the upcoming season. Senior forward Liz Kennedy commented, "training camp in Barcelona was a once in a lifetime experience. We bonded quickly spending so much time together on and off the court. We got to see so many historic sights, eat some great food and play against incredible competition! I can't wait for the season ahead."
A theme of the trip was learning to adapt to whatever challenge came the team's way. Whether it was overcoming a language barrier, navigating a complicated subway system, or adjusting to unfamiliar officiating patterns, the team met each challenge head on and came away better for it. Neita commented, "the trip to Barcelona was an amazing experience for us to grow as a team on and off the court. We were pushed on the court and were given challenges for us to overcome to get better as players. We all really connected, hanging out with one another touring the city which translated to our on-court chemistry. We got a first-hand opportunity to tour around Barcelona and learned more about the city and its culture. I can't wait to see what the season ahead has in store."
Incoming guard Ella Brazier echoed Kennedy and Neita's sentiments, "I truly could not have asked for a better start to this season. By the end of this unique training camp, I felt like I had made a new family. I'm confident that the team chemistry we built in Barcelona has set us up for a successful year. I also feel that the quality of the teams we played demonstrated a level of basketball I aspire to achieve."