I was in Suzhou, China in early February. I accompanied the girl’s basketball team for the ACAMIS tournament along with head coach Meghan. We met at the school early Wednesday morning and left Ulaanbaatar by 8:30. We arrived in Beijing and had a long layover where we needed to clear immigration, get our bags, change terminals and then wait two hours before checking in for our next flight. Our flight to Shanghai was over an hour late. We then had an hour and a half bus ride north to Suzhou. We met at our school at 5:45 AM and arrived in the hotel rooms at about 10 PM. It was a long day of travel. I ordered a $20 steak from from service and crashed.
The next morning was free time – there were no events scheduled until early afternoon. After breakfast Meghan and I walked to a nearby park and pagoda. We gathered and rode to the Chinese middle school that the competition was to be at. We were in for a surprise. The building was brand new. It had a great floor and excellent lighting. But the building had no heat. And Suzhou was experiencing a bit of a cold spell. It was probably about 45-50°F in the gym. Our team played late in the day against the school that was hosting the tournament. At the end of the first quarter we were down 0 to 7. Since the girls had only played two home games they really were not sure how competitive they would be. It wasn’t looking good… in the first minute or so of the second quarter one of the eighth grade students that came along to fill in the team sunk a three pointer. The momentum changed. They won that first game by a comfortable lead in the end. That night the girls were all excited.
The second day of the tournament the girls had three games. The second game they also finished the first quarter way behind. But they pulled through and won their first and second games of the day. Their third game was against the International School of Ulaanbaatar. We lost against them – it was a close game – but ISU is essentially our school’s nemesis. We don’t have many other schools that we can play against locally. That night spirits were not as high. ISU had lost to other schools so we were ranked higher than them but the final game of the round robin was against an undefeated team.
Saturday morning we had that last match of the round robin. The girls played well against a team that would be nearly guaranteed to be playing in the finals. They won by a comfortable lead and finished the round robin seeded first. Their next game was against the third place team which they had already played. After winning that match the girls were lined up to play against the same team they had started off against that day against. It was an incredibly close game. Both teams had good players foul out of the game because of the intensity. In the last seconds of the fourth quarter the game was tied and our best shooter had been fouled while taking a shot so was able to take two free throws. Both missed. We went into overtime. Both teams made a few points but by the end of the overtime the score was still tied. Double overtime. Last twenty seconds and we’re tied. One of our players made a basket putting us ahead by two. The other team grabbed the ball, ran it down the court and missed. We rebounded and our good free thrower was fouled again. With just a few seconds on the clock she ended up making one of her baskets putting our team ahead by three when the buzzer went off.
I learned a lot about basketball on the trip. I was quite proud with how our players behaved both on and off the court. Their sportsmanship was exceptional. They were supportive and, considering the sport, played nicely against the other teams.
That night was the awards banquet. The girls were excited and exhausted. Some were a bit banged up. The next day we left our hotel at 8:30 in the morning for the bus ride back to Shanghai. We flew back through Beijing with another hassle through changing terminals and having to wait to be able to check in. We finally arrived back at the Ulaanbaatar airport (Chinggis Khan international airport) at about 11 PM on Sunday.