Rockets soar into new season with flight to IsraelWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Three years ago, guards Courtney Ingersoll and Naama Shafir helped usher in a new era of Toledo women’s basketball when they arrived as part of Rockets’ head coach Tricia Cullop’s first recruiting class.
Three years later, Ingersoll will begin her senior season at Toledo with a trip to her former roommate’s homeland. On Aug. 7, the Rockets will depart for 10 days in Shafir’s native Israel, participating in two exhibition games and sightseeing in areas such as Tel Aviv, Bethlehem and Jerusalem before returning to the states on Aug. 18.
“I roomed with [Naama] my freshman year in the dorms,” Ingersoll said. “[Since then] she’s lived in her house and I live in an apartment, but we’ve spent so much time together it’s pretty much like we’re rooming together.”
The pair has spent a lot of time together on the court, as well. Since coming to Toledo in 2008, Ingersoll and Shafir have helped the Rockets go a combined 72-30, including a 29-8 record in 2010-11 as Toledo captured the WNIT Championship.
“It feels good to have that behind us and the WNIT leading into this,” Ingersoll said. “I guess the only other way it would have been better is if [we’d] gone to the NCAA Tournament and then go to this trip, but it’s good.”
This trip will not be the first Cullop has made overseas with her team because of an international player.
“I had a chance at the University of Evansville to go to Japan for 10 days with a player that was from Japan as well, and it was such a special experience that it really rang true today that we wanted to bring Naama back home and have our players have a chance to have that same learning experience that my team at Evansville had,” Cullop said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the community and more humbled by the response that we got to help us with this trip financially.”
No university money is being utilized for the trip to Israel. The Rockets paid for it in full through fundraising efforts by the team in the past two years, raising more than $120,000. Including the women’s basketball team, 27 UT staff members will make the trip to Israel, while others interested in going had to pay $4,000.
“It’s amazing,” junior center and Toledo native Yolanda Richardson said. “Especially going into school saying that we had just came back from Israel, it’s going to be like one of the highlights of my summer … actually, of my year … actually, of my life!”
One of nine children, Shafir is from Hoshaya, a small town of approximately 350 families in the Northern District of Israel.
The 21-year-old senior was back overseas this summer competing for the Israeli national women’s basketball team.
“She goes home and plays for her national team every summer,” Cullop said. “This summer, she played for the highest level team. She was three years younger than anybody else on the team, so it was a great experience for her. She didn’t get as much playing time, but she will as she gets older.”
Welcoming five newcomers to the 2011-12 Rockets — junior center Kyle Baumgartner (Akron), sophomore forward and Central Catholic graduate Brianna Jones (Illinois), freshman guard/forward Ana Capotosto, freshman forward Taylor Carver and freshman guard Stephanie Recker — Cullop said she hopes the trip to Israel will serve as a bonding experience for this season’s squad.
“I’m so proud of what we did last season, but that was last year, and it’s a great chance for us to start the new chapter and really kind of identify what this team’s identity is,” Cullop said. “We’ve got five new players — two that sat out from transferring and three freshmen — and I’m very excited about them, but I’m also thrilled that we have a great mentoring opportunity with our two seniors going to get a chance to really help me kind of help them along the path, not make some of the same mistakes that they made and really kind of help us gel as a team.”
Neither Ingersoll nor Richardson has been out of the country before, and both are looking forward to seeing Shafir and religious sites like Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
“I think actually there’s only like two people that have been out of the country, Naama being one of them,” Ingersoll said. “So it’s going to be a good experience for everyone.”