KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan - The Vanguard University men's and women's basketball teams were selected to participate in the BLDI Cup University Basketball Tournament. Coaches Jana Pearson, Rhett Soliday, and Taylor Kelly went over along with a team of five support staff members and 12 players from each squad to participate in the event. Below you will find a running diary from the team themselves...
After a thirteen hour plane ride we arrived in Taipei, Taiwan! We were met by our lovely tour guide Linda and began the bus ride south to the city of Kaohsiung where we are staying.
"Coming off the plane, it was an immediate culture shock, exlaimed Kailtyn Hawthorne! "Everyone was so reserved and respectful, excited to meet us. We got lots of friendly smiles and giggles, as we look very foreign to them."
We arrived at Fo Guang Shan Monastery which has been converted into what is called the Athlete Village for the tournament. We were able to explore some of the grounds and see a couple of gardens and temples before practice. The architecture and intricacy of the buildings is absolutely beautiful. It has been an honor to experience the culture of Taiwan so far and we are excited for what is to come!
"Wow this is really happening. Also it's really hot," a perspiring Jadan Anderson boasted.
We are off to an eventful start here in Taiwan! Coach Pearson and Soliday went along with a player from each team to the official press conference for the tournament where each team had their head coach and one athlete present to represent all the different teams in the tournament. The press conference was put on to recognize the people involved who have volunteered their time as well as those who sponsored the tournament as well. The whole city is really excited about this tournament in anticipation of the good competition to come. While they were gone, both the men's and women's teams went another team guide, Ada, around the grounds. We saw various Buddhist temples and she even took us to a spot to get the best mango ice cream. Our team has been so grateful at the overwhelming hospitality and kindness all our hosts have shown us.
As we entered the arena, everyone could feel the excitement fueled by hundreds of elementary school students and fans from around the city. The BLIA Cup had begun, and many came to cheer on the athletes. The men's team was up first against Chung Chou University of Science and Technology. We started out the game with an impressive lead, but the opposing team came back and took the lead with minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The Lions were able to walk away victorious with a score of 80-77 in a game that came down to the last minute and free throws.
"From the beginning of the game we came out with great purpose. We attacked really hard. We jumped out to a great lead, and stuck together even when we fell behind and were able to come together to pull it out at the end" said Brandon Hood (SR/Gardena, CA).
The women were up next against the Malaysia National Team. While the Lions had a less than ideal result with a final score of 79-51 in favor Malaysia, they learned a lot from the experience on the international stage.
"Coming into our first game, we knew as an inexperienced team, and that we had to stick together and play through the tough moments. While trying to bring our players together, our challenge was to work as a team and adjust to each other's new roles. Overall, we came out very scattered and a bit nervous, but towards the second half we had some key optimistic moments of team chemistry that I hope we can recreate in our next game" said Victoria Chea (SO/Murrieta, CA).
After the games both teams participated in the opening ceremony and proudly held up flags for Vanguard. There were various performances from local groups and even Venerable Master Hsing Yun who started the Monastery fifty years ago came and was honored. After that both the Secretary of City of Kaohsiung as well as the Fo Guang University president spoke on the value of education that promotes holistic values and ideals through sports. They believe in teaching the young kids that filled the stands things like teamwork, corporation, and sportsmanship. The athletes have the opportunity to represent to those watching these core values that go beyond the game and embody the spirit of Gold Pride.
Both teams continue to learn valuable lessons during the second day of competition at the BLIA CUP University Basketball Tournament here in Taiwan. It has been an incredible time for both teams to grow and experience new styles of play. Today the women were up first against
Nagoya Gakuin University of Japan. Although the final score of 54-81 wasn't in the Lions favor, the team is still learning a lot and keeping long term goals in mind.
"The style of basketball is much different to what we are used to in America. The games here are much faster than we're used too. In addition we've had to adjust to the wider key markings, the eight second backcourt count and the 24 second shot clock. Although we haven't been successful in gaining any wins so far, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to really discover what our strengths and weaknesses are early, giving us time to focus on what we need to improve both individually and as a team for our upcoming season" said Tania Uluheua (SR/Auckland, New Zealand).
The men's team played next against Chien Hsin University of Science and Technology, one of the host teams from Taiwan. The Lions were victorious for a second day with a score of 80-77 against the home team. Both teams are looking forward to another opportunity to play on the international stage tomorrow.
"Every game the guys are getting closer together. We hope to keep building and getting better as we continue on in the tournamen," said Kaleb Wilborn (SO/Chino, CA).
Today marks the end of pool play for the BLIA cup. The top two teams in each pool will advance to compete for first through fourth place.
The men took on De La Salle University from the Philippines. In a competitive back and forth contest, the time ran out and the score was 75-75, causing the game to go to overtime. With a final score of 81-84 in favor of the Philippines, the Lions are learning what it means to come together as a team.
"They were tough competitors, unfortunately we were unable to get the win, but hopeful we get to see them again in the next couple days. We continue to learn a lot and the team is get a lot closer together as the games go on," said Shacquille Dawkins (SO/Santa Clarita, CA).
The women took on the returning BLIA cup champions, the host team, Fo Guang University. With a score of 80-50, in favor of the home team, the Lions continue to take steps forward in building a team for this upcoming season.
After the games, both teams went to the night market. This is a central event in the city that brings the community together. There was food, vendors, and various games for everyone to enjoy. Some of the players were adventurous in trying new foods and even decided to partake in the infamous 'stinky tofu' recommended by our local guides.
"Each booth contained a different piece of local culture. My favorite part was trying the squid. It was fun to really taste the culture in a way," said Sierra Vaglica (SO/Irvine, CA).
Both teams have a bye in tomorrow's competition and are looking forward to participating in a service project and exploring more of Taiwan.
The Lions started the day with an opportunity to give back to the Monastery. Both teams were invited to serve a meal to the monks. While this may seam like a simple idea, the process of eating a meal is sacred in their tradition, and it was an honor to be invited into their liturgy. There was an order and a place for every utensil and food item, and the dining hall marked by a hallowing silence. We used hand signals to communicate with one another and had to move quickly, but with accuracy. During the meal, those being served went through the five contemplations. They explained that while eating their food they are mindful of the farmers hands that create the food, as well as what they will do with the energy they have been given. We were challenged to show the love of God without words, and the mindfulness gave the athletes a deeper understanding of their own faith as well.
"My experience while serving the monks was nerve-racking, but during the process I gained a new perspective in my faith that I will forever be grateful for," said Gionni Blankenship (SR/Paramount, CA).
Later in the evening all the teams were invited to a banquet and performance night. Each team came up with a performance to represent their country. Our men's team put on a crowd favorite mix that included Soulja Boy, and our women shined with a line dance of their own.
"It was fun being around all the other teams. We didn't let the on the court competition effect the fun we had. It was cool to make international friendships," said Sam Saufferer.
From all around the world, the athletes came together regardless of different backgrounds and languages to celebrate one another and share in the sport they love.
The Lions took on the Université De Lyon from France on both the men's and women's side today. In the first game of the game, the women were up. The Lions unfortunately came up a few points short with a final score of 57-64 in favor of the French, but walked away with valuable lessons as a group.
"This loss is tough, but to come back from being down by 20 plus points with about five minutes left and only trailing by six at the end of the game shows how much our team has to offer when we choose not to quit. It's going to be a matter of limiting our mental lapses, which will come with practice, and pushing through fatigue. The progress we made in this tournament is only going to continue through season and I have no doubt this will be successful team," said Raechelle Davis (SR/Huntington Beach, CA).
Coming full circle, in the last game of the evening, the men were up. It was another Lion-Lyon matchup, with both teams completing for a chance to go to the championship of the tournament. In an intense back and fourth game, the Lions fell to the French with a final of 66-75.
"It has been an amazing time here. Something that we learned as a team is to stay together in adversary. Things aren't going to always go our way, but it's important to stay together as a family at the end of the day," said Brandon Brothers (JR/Pasadena, CA).
The men will compete for third place tomorrow before heading home.
The last day of the BLIA cup was full of happy memories and hard goodbyes. The men started out the day completing against Tsinghua University of the Republic of China for third place. The Lions were victorious with a final score of 82-72, but the team was able to walk away with far more than a trophy.
"Through this trip I learned it's not about the destination or outcome, but about the journey and all that comes with a season. We came across the world together and we will continue to stick together no matter what crosses our path," said Malachi Holstein.
After this both teams participated in the closing ceremony which featured performances from local talent, as well as highlights from the tournament. This tournament was created to promote peace among the nations. It was a privilege to be able to represent our country, school, and Lord on an international stage through sport. Both teams are sad to see this cultural exchange come to an end, but filled with joy and gratitude for the memories and friendships made here in Taiwan. A huge xiè xie (thank you) to Fo Guang Shan Monastery and all the people and organizations who made this possible, it has been an absolute privilege to experience your country and hospitality.
"The closing ceremony an amazing end to the trip. It was fun to dance with the other athletes and enjoy being around each other. I got to know some of the Japanese girls which was super cool. It was amazing forming friendships all around the world," said Treasure Robinson (FR/Westminster, CA).