High school athletes in rural places such as Montana typically have to travel a great distance in order to compete with their conference and non-conference opponents, no matter the sport or season.
But just last month, 48 Montana basketball players put in over 16,000 miles round trip, in what was truly a basketball trip of a lifetime.
Getting the opportunity to play basketball far away from their Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota roots, 24 boys and 24 girls from several different towns and high schools made a very memorable trip to Australia from June 2, to June 17. The 24 girls included a handful of familiar faces, including in Havre High's Morgan Mazurkiewicz, Tori Mazurkiewicz, Brandy Lambourne, Peyton Filius, Lacey Waid and Taylor Carson.
While in Australia, the Blue Pony girls were part of a team that squeezed in 17 basketball games against a whole array of Australian talent.
They faced off against average high school squads that weren’t much for competition, but also faced more competitive select teams that housed some top tier talent. And while doing so, the local girls got to be a part of a very successful team that ended up finishing with a record of 12-5 overall. The talent my not have always been at a standard the Pony girls are accustomed too, but they still grew as a team, and even saw some growth in their individual games.
“It (the competition) wasn’t always that great,” Lambourne said. “But the select teams were better. They normally had one or two girls that were really good, where we looked at them and were like ‘wow’. But it was hard because we (Havre girls) weren’t always playing together. But yeah, I think we got better, I think I got better. Rebounding, on my part was where I got better; I really tried to box out more.
But while the key mission of the trip was to play basketball, the trip meant so much more to the girls.
The girls were able to spend time in Brisbane, Queensland, and on the gorgeous beaches of the Gold Coast. Their games were played at night, giving them all day to not only relax on the beaches, but to also explore and try things that in a place half way around the world from the Montana summer. While hanging out “down under,” they were able to visit an animal sanctuary, learn how to surf, go snorkeling, attempt sand tobogganing, and hit the local shops along Surfer's Paradise.
“I liked meeting the different people,” Tori Mazurkiewicz said. “And I have some new Facebook friends because of it. And I liked getting to do all of the things we wouldn’t get to do at home. We got to do things like sand tobogganing, and that was pretty cool. We walked up a huge sand hill, and rode down on a wooden board that was waxed and that going pretty fast.
“I liked learning how to surf,” sister, Morgan Mazurkiewicz added. “I didn’t really get nervous (thinking about sharks), because they told us that they don’t get too close to the shore until night time. I was kind of scared before we went, but not when I got there. But probably my favorite thing to do was just go hang out on the beach. The sand was way different, and when I came back I went to Fresno, and was like ‘wow’.”
If the thought of Great White sharks couldn’t put a damper on the trip, nothing was going to ruin the memories this group of local friends was able to make.
Camaraderie is always something that can bring a team great success. A squad can have all the talent in the world, but if they don’t get a long, chances are they won’t have the success they are capable of. And as the Havre High girls’ program has continued to grow and improve over the last couple of seasons, camaraderie definitely isn’t something they lack. And the already tight knit group of Havre girls that made the trip got even closer, it is only too bad, that the whole team couldn’t make the trip.
“We were always together,” Morgan Mazurkiewicz said. “We even got to play one game with just us (Havre girls). But every night we stayed at the same place, and were just always together as a Havre group.
“That was the coolest part about this, was going with a group of my best friends,” Lambourne added. “It was fun, and yeah, it was a once and a lifetime trip. You don’t always get this kind of opportunity. We lived together for two weeks, and it was really crazy, but really fun.”
With all of the relaxing and adventures the Pony players were able to experience last month, this wasn’t exactly basketball boot camp. But there is no doubt the six locals who made the trip were able to improve friendships, as well as their basketball skills.
And with Blue Pony assistant coach Kelly Mazurkiewicz making the trip as well, she got to see the growth and improvement first hand, something that is surely going to help the whole Pony squad moving forward.
“What I liked was that this trip really gave our kids the opportunity to get to know each other very well outside of basketball,” Coach Mazurkiewicz daid. “They had each others back the entire time, and really enjoyed each others company. To be a winning team I think you have to have that, and looking forward, we hope that makes the difference for us for this next season.
“There is no selfishness on this team already,” Coach Mazurkiewicz added. “If one does great, they all tell her awesome job. We already have that with this team, and I think that is almost a once and a lifetime team almost. That is what championship teams are made of."