Traveling with the Rockets: Day three

August 11, 2011 | Features, UToday
By Brian DeBenedictis

Assistant Sports Information Director Brian DeBenedictis is chronicling the women’s basketball team’s trip to Israel.

For the second straight morning, my roommate, Tony Zaworski, assistant athletic director for finance, and I started the day with a way too early run. We were joined on our jog by Assistant Coach Todd Mitmesser. We ran for about 50 minutes on the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. We truly were surprised by the number of people exercising at 6 a.m. Israel is a country that is concerned about physical fitness!

The Rockets returned to the court to play their first exhibition game during the trip.

The Rockets returned to the court to play their first exhibition game during the trip.

Following the run, we headed to the second floor of the hotel for the huge breakfast spread. It was pretty much the same buffet as yesterday and just as delicious. Today I went with a veggie omelet and some fresh fruit. I’m trying to eat a little more healthy, but who am I kidding?

Our group checked out of the hotel at 7:45 a.m. and headed to practice at Nahalal. It was about a one-hour and thirty-minute drive to the arena. Along the way, the tour guide provided even more insight on Israel’s storied history.

The one-hour practice provided the team with a great opportunity to stretch their legs and work out some of the kinks from the long flight. It also served as the first time Naama Shafir had practiced with all her teammates since the spring. One could definitely tell that Head Coach Tricia Cullop was pleased by her team’s effort and very impressed with their focus.

Following practice, a photographer from Israel’s largest newspaper (the same one that will be doing a story about Naama for this Friday’s edition) took some photos of the Hoshaya native, as well as some pictures of her with teammates Courtney Ingersoll, Haylie Linn and Mariah Carson.

The group then headed to an outdoor mall, and everybody split up for one hour for lunch. Most people chose to eat at McDonald’s, China House or a local pizza shop. Coach Mitmesser and I split a scrumptious veggie pizza.

We got back on the bus around 2 p.m. and headed for an abbreviated tour of Naama’s hometown. The three-time All-MAC performer showed us the sites of her small town, and we got to first meet one set of her grandparents. We then headed to her parents’ home and took a quick tour.
The reason the trip was short and sweet is because we are heading back there tomorrow after the team’s second exhibition game.

We then headed toward Tiberias on the shores of the “Sweet Sea” to take a look at the sites of some truly memorable places, including Capernaum, Mount of Beautides, Tabgha and the Benedictine Monastery.

A little inside information for you all: During the time of Jesus, the territory of Capernaum extended from the Seven Springs to the Jordan with Bethsaida just beyond it on the river bank. Tabgha was the lonely place on the lakeshore where Jesus withdrew to frequently. During the first four centuries, a large community of Christians of Jewish descent lived in Capernaum and kept alive the memory of Jesus’ presence at Tabgha, passing these traditions on from generation to generation. Around the Seven Springs, three rock formations were found as memorials of gospel stories that had taken place there. One rock close to the highway was said to mark the place where Jesus had fed the 5,000-plus people with five loaves and two fish, and a cave on the hillside recalled Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Pretty amazing stuff!

Right before leaving Tabgha, our group was recognized by a fellow observer. He turned out to be a 2011 graduate of The University of Toledo with a degree in health-care administration named Leo. He is a native of Sylvania and a graduate of Southview High School and here on a medical mission trip for the next couple of months. Talk about a small world!

Upon returning to our air-conditioned bus, we headed to the Caesar Hotel Tiberias for a short time; the hotel overlooks the Sea of Galilee. Tony and I have a picturesque view of the rolling mountains and the sea. We had a little over one hour to get situated in our room, freshen up a bit, and get ready for the game.

We left for the contest at 5:15 p.m. (normal departure time for most away contests) and it was business as usual for the 2011 WNIT Champions when they stepped onto the court. The Rockets broke open a close game in the second quarter and cruised to a 79-49 victory against a group of Israeli Select Team members. One of the Israeli players was Naama’s younger sister, Roni. The teams played four 10-minute periods before about 75 friends and family.

With the score tied 24-24 at the end of the first period, UT outscored its opposition 23-8 in the second quarter to take a commanding 47-32 lead into the intermission and never looked back.

Sophomore Andola Dortch led the way with 13 points, and senior Haylie Linn chipped in with 11 points in the 30-point victory.

After the game, the teams shared hugs and took many, many pictures.

Our group then returned to the hotel for a late dinner and most tried to get caught up on some sleep — and I need all the beauty sleep I can get!

It will be a short stay in Tiberias for our group, as we have breakfast at 7 a.m. and then leave for the northern seaport of Akko to take part in a partnership briefing with the Central Area Consortium. We are scheduled to visit the Lighthouse Teen Club for Arab Israeli youths at risk and take part in a hands-on workshop.

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