Thursday, August 24, 2000

Xavier women's European vacation a homecoming




By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Taru Tuukkanen is used to looking in the stands at Xavier women's basketball games and seeing her teammates' families. During the first trip overseas in the program's history, it was quite the opposite.

        “I actually knew everybody in the stands,” Tuukkanen said.

        That's because Xavier was in Finland, playing four games in Tuukkanen's home country. The team recently returned from its 10-day trip, during which it won three of four games.

        “It was cool to have everybody come over to see where I'm from and to show them all the places I grew up and where I live,” Tuukkanen said.

        Her aunt, a Helsinki tour guide, took the team around the city. The Musketeers al so went on a 20-mile bike ride, a two-hour kayaking venture and a boat trip to Estonia, a country that gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and is located 50 miles from Helsinki across the Gulf of Finland.

        “We were just on the go the whole time,” senior Nicole Levandusky said. “It was a great bonding experience for those of us who were there. Unfortunately we couldn't have the newcomers come with us.”

        Tuukkanen wanted to show off her teammates and their style of play, and she wanted to play well for her fans in the stands.

        The senior center led the Musketeers with a 19.7-point scoring average, including a 31-point effort against a club team. She shot 67 percent for the trip.

        “I wanted Xavier to look really good for the Finnish people, and I wanted the Finnish teams to look good for the Xavier people,” she said.

        Said Levandusky: “I was just happy for her to play in front of her friends and family.”

        Let's return to the Estonia trip. On the return boat ride, one of the engines caught fire and started smoking. Crew members rushed downstairs from the bridge with gas masks, racing right past the team.

        Tuukkanen said she was asleep when the fire alarm went off. She woke up to coach Melanie Balcomb's voice, saying, “You can't sleep, it's a crisis situation.”

        “No it's not,” Tuukkanen said.

        Then she continued resting as the boat turned back toward Estonia, where the team would get another boat back to Finland.

       



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