After Columbia women’s basketball took an eight-day trip to Morocco and Spain in August, the players were full of confidence, according to head coach Megan Griffith.

“I think they feel really good after this trip,” she told reporters with a laugh on Sept. 2.

And for good reason: Columbia won all three games played on the road by an average margin of 66.6 points, punctuated by a 136-30 victory over the Spanish team Armilla Baloncesto on August 25. The trip set the tone for a 2022-23 season. in which Columbia should not only fight for an Ivy League title, but also make some noise nationally.

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Columbia’s trip was originally scheduled for the summer of 2020, ahead of what was expected to be a pivotal season for the program. The 2019-20 season was Griffith’s first winning season at Columbia after being hired in 2016, and that list included several young players who were set to be released in 2020-21.

Instead, after the COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ended the 2019-20 season and wiped out the entire 2020-21 season for the Ivy League, the Lions had to wait until 2021-22 to make the leap. next. Last season, they had a program record of 25 wins against just seven losses, including a 12-2 record and a second-place finish in the Ivy League. They earned the program’s first-ever WNIT spot and won three matches to advance to the quarterfinals.

Touring overseas this summer instead of 2020 will still help Columbia build on a promising season — but now the program is further along in its development. He graduated just one player, backup point guard Mikayla Markham, from last year’s squad and will feature 11 juniors and seniors in 2022-23.

“It’s the right group of kids they’re getting,” Griffith said. “It was the group that built the culture that really changed the program.”

Columbia left New York for Morocco on August 20, then traveled by ferry to Spain on August 24 and returned home on August 28. Griffith had been curious about traveling to Morocco ever since she heard about it while playing professionally in Europe in the late ages, and she wanted to take her players somewhere they might not otherwise think of visiting. The fact that very few university teams had ever visited Morocco only added to the attraction.

“I like to be the first to do things,” Griffith said.

Spain is a more common destination for college teams, but it was a natural choice for Colombia for several reasons. It is geographically close to Morocco and shares some cultural influences, and it has brought home junior Mary Lobon and second Noa Comesaña, both from Spain and with family members and friends in games. International recruiting has benefited Columbia recently – in addition to Lobon and Comesaña, second Kitty Henderson is Australian and first year Susannah Rafiu is English – and Griffith stayed in Spain a few days after the tour to connect with coaches and coaches. scouts.

For Griffith, the most important outcome of the trip was that the team continues to build chemistry. Although NCAA rules prevented the two Columbia freshmen from traveling because they hadn’t started fall classes, the trip gave the returning players more time together on the field and opportunities to bond as a team off the pitch.

“We already have a close-knit family and community and culture, but to go somewhere different, experience something different with these people, I think you learn a lot about yourself,” Griffith said. “And basketball was kind of a bonus.”

Traveling with Navigo Sports Tours, the group visited historical and cultural sites such as the Caves of Hercules at Cape Spartel, Morocco, and the Alhambra, an Islamic palace in Granada, Spain. He saw a flamenco show in Seville, Spain, and took a day trip to Chefchaouen, Morocco, a city nicknamed the “blue pearl of Morocco” because its houses are traditionally painted. Blue and white. The group even rode camels on the beach in Morocco, an activity Griffith called a “crowd favorite.”

Columbia’s traveling party immersed themselves in local culture over meals, trying traditional Moroccan cuisine and sharing a post-game dinner with one of their opponents. “[The teams] spoke all the time and it didn’t matter who spoke Spanish or English,” Griffith said. In Morocco, the team’s hosts surprised the group by recreating a traditional wedding party that included food, dancing, festive clothing and henna tattoos.

“I feel like the best part of it all is just being able to come home, come home and show all my teammates and my Lion family…the Spanish culture,” Lobon said. said on August 25, “because it’s beautiful and I just like to show it to them and they love it.”

The Lions also learned a lot from their three exhibition games. They tried different lineups, and each player got significant minutes. The games used FIBA ​​rules, some of which encourage the kind of fast-paced play that Columbia likes to play, so the Lions were able to practice making decisions even faster. Additionally, Griffith pointed out, adapting to different rules and officiating was in itself a learning opportunity for the team.

Overall, Griffith’s assessment was that his team’s level of play this summer was “not too far off from where we left off last season.” This showed in the results:

Date Opponent Score Columbia top scorer
August 23 IR Tangier (Morocco) 93-26 Abbey Hsu, 29
August 25 Armilla Baloncesto (Spain) 136-30 Jaïda Patrick, 28 years old
August 27 Spanish selection team 75-48 Jaïda Patrick, 21 years old
Source: Columbia Women’s Basketball Daily Summaries

One player who particularly seemed to benefit from exhibition games was senior Jaida Patrick, a 5’10 guard who joined the Lions last season as a transfer from Duke. Patrick struggled to adapt at times, but eventually found his groove, starting the last 12 and leading Columbia in scoring three times. For the season, she averaged 9.1 points per game on 38.0 percent shooting from the field. But this summer, she scored 22.7 points per game on 46.2% shooting.

“She kisses like, ‘This is my house now,'” Griffith said. “…It took time for J just to adapt to our style, to our culture. And… now it’s like, these are her sisters. It’s his family. There’s just a lot more trust between her and everyone else. You see her letting her guard down in a really special way. So I think that allows her to be herself on the basketball court… You just see a freer, looser, more confident Jaida.

Griffith also named junior Abbey Hsu and senior Kaitlyn Davis – both Columbia All-Ivy selections in 2021-22 – and Henderson as players who made “a major change” in their games to be even better for 2022 -23. Henderson, who started 23 games as a rookie and often plays the playmaker, makes better decisions with the ball and has recorded eight assists and zero turnovers in one away game. And Hsu and Davis lead a team that is more mature and “really serious” about what they want to achieve this season, even before official pre-season training begins.

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Although Columbia has never won an Ivy League title, there is enough talent on the roster that the Lions could be chosen as the preseason favorites, ahead of the perennial Princeton. Instead of downplaying his team’s expectations, Griffith embraces them. On April 8, less than two weeks after the end of Columbia’s historic 2021-22 season, she told reporters that the 2022-23 team would achieve another first:

“We’ll be in the NCAA tournament next year. I’ll tell you.

The overseas tour has apparently only boosted Griffith’s confidence in what she has this season. She expects her defense to be “much more disruptive” and create more transition opportunities, and the offense has obviously clicked in all three games, averaging over 100 points. Griffith even claimed year-end awards, saying she wanted at least two players — if not her entire starting roster — on the All-Ivy first team.

Columbia’s decision to tour overseas this summer sounds a lot like a poker player seeing a favorable hand and pushing all of his chips into the center of the table. We will just have to wait a few more months to see if the Lions have a very good full house or an exceptional royal flush.

For more information on overseas tours and the teams that traveled this summer, read Jenn Hatfield’s story from June 2022, “Foreign tours are officially back in women’s college basketball.”