High-profile Cardinals back in spotlight, first women’s college basketball team to play in Cuba

University of Louisville head coach Jeff Walz, in his nine years, has elevated the women’s basketball program into the national spotlight and made the Cardinals’ consistently part of the coast-to-coast conversation (UofL Athletics Photo)

University of Louisville head coach Jeff Walz, in his nine years, has elevated the women’s basketball program into the national spotlight and made the Cardinals’ consistently part of the coast-to-coast conversation.

This week, the team will be attracting the limelight – for a different discussion.

The Cardinals, who are finishing last-minute preparations for their foreign trip, will become the first NCAA women’s college basketball program to visit and play in Cuba.

The group departs Louisville for Miami on Friday morning and then leaves on Saturday for Cuba, where it will remain until Aug. 12.

“We’re allowed to go on a foreign trip once every four years,” Walz said at his press conference on Wednesday, “and we were trying to find a place where the travel would not be difficult, we wouldn’t have to change time zones by 4-6 hours, and we talked about Costa Rica as a place to go.

“Two years ago, when the border opened up to go into Cuba, we thought it would be a great idea to have our student-athletes have the opportunity to get in there and really immerse themselves in the culture of the Cuban history and get a chance to see it before it becomes westernized.”

Once the Cardinals arrive in Havana on Saturday, the team will travel to the Partagas Cigar Factory and learn how cigars are rolled the old-fashioned way. Following the tour, the team heads to its hotel, the Parque Central, where it will eat lunch and rest.

Louisville concludes the scheduled part of the day with a contest against the Cuban national team. Because of the foreign trip, the Cardinals were granted 10 days of practice and Walz believes it has been terrific for the newcomers and should help the team with the early competition.

On Sunday, Louisville will take a walking tour of Havana and the Four Squares in Old Havana, the historic heart of Cuba’s capital city. It is the largest colonial centre in Latin America and features a mix of historic buildings, such as museums, galleries, and churches. Once the team returns, it again will depart for Fajardo Arena, an open-air venue, for the second game against the Cuban national team.

The Cardinals finish the day with salsa class on the roof of the Plaza Hotel.

It’s about a two-hour course, and from what we’ve been told, it’s pretty intense,” Walz said with a grin. “I’ve never been known to be a dancer, so it should be rather interesting to see how this shakes out.”

On the final full day in Havana, the coaching staff will host a clinic for the Cuban National Team at 9 a.m., while the student-athletes tour and visit the Cuban Arts and Crafts Fair building. Louisville plays its last game against the Cuban national team at 3 p.m. and then has a free night to enjoy the city.

The team, on Tuesday, will eat breakfast in the morning and then depart east for Varadero, where the Cardinals will check in to an all-inclusive resort and spend there until Friday morning.

TURN OFF TECHNOLOGY

While the team was excited to learn about the different activities set up throughout the trip, there was a collective gasp – albeit short lived – when the student-athletes learned their cell phones won’t work and internet access will be minimal.

“You can really unplug and really absorb everything that’s going on there,” senior Cortnee Walton said when talking about the inability to use cell phones or social media.

“At first, I was (panicking),” 2016 ACC Player of the Year Myisha Hines-Allen said, “but when you look at the itinerary and see what you’re doing, I don’t really need a phone.”

TEST TIME

In anticipation for the trip, the Louisville women’s basketball coaching staff had the student-athletes read the book Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis to learn about the meetings between the United States and the USSR following the discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba.

“It’s a book I read in the eighth grade, and it’s a book that I remember. When we decided to go to Cuba, I was like, ‘Hey, we’re going to make our team read this.’ If you fail, you don’t go on the trip, so there’s a little bit of pressure on the test,” Walz said jokingly.

Each of the student-athletes read the book and successfully passed the test on Wednesday prior to practice.

From UofL Athletics

e the first NCAA women’s college basketball program to visit and play in Cuba.

 

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