Four days on the road, a travel party of nearly 30 people, more than 4,000 miles to cover, and three exhibition matches in two days.
And then Hurricane Irene became part of the agenda for the TWU volleyball team last weekend as it ventured to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for a series of preseason warm-ups. The Pioneers won two of the three tune-up matches and are back home with a confident eye on this weekend's season opener.
Arriving in Puerto Rico with Hurricane Irene having just passed over the island, the Pioneers were met with unexpected issues. For starters, their plane landed amid rain and flooding conditions. There was no electrical power anywhere, so businesses without a generator were forced to close.
The house TWU officials had arranged to stay in was without power and water, so the coaching staff scrambled to make other arrangements.
Fortunately, they were able to locate a hotel - with a generator - that had just enough vacant rooms left to hold TWU's staff, athletes and parents.
"We needed eight rooms and they had eight rooms left," said head coach Shelly Barberee. "Thank goodness, because all the others in town were booked."
The Pioneers also had to hustle up new practice arrangements since the facilities they had previously booked were either flooded or without power. And getting to and from practice became a headache since many gas stations were closed or without gas in the wake of the hurricane.
Through it all, though, there was some good news.
"Although we landed in rain and flooding, the next two days the skies opened up, the sun came out and it was gorgeous," Barberee said.
What's more, the Pioneers posted victories over the University of Puerto Rico at Bayamon (26-24, 25-17, 11-25, 25-14) and UPR-Cayey (20-25, 25-20, 22-25, 25-19, 15-10). Their only loss in the three-match series was a four-game battle against UPR-Rio Piedras, the island's defending champion.
"It turned out to be a great trip," Barberee said. "Volleyball is very good in Puerto Rico, and one of the things we wanted to do down there was play good competition. We also got some good team bonding in on this trip. We saw where we need improvement and also saw some good things."
Drier conditions likely will be awaiting the Pioneers this weekend when they open the season at the Lady Buff Invitation in Canyon. TWU is scheduled to face the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Western State College on Friday before taking on Adam State and Southwest Baptist on Saturday.
Season opener next
With a successful scrimmage against program alumni in the books, the Pioneers are ready for the real fun to begin.
TWU finally will open its 2011 season Saturday at Dallas Baptist (7 p.m.) with a new sense of confidence after the current players rolled up a 6-2 win against a squad of former players in the annual Alumni Game last weekend.
After the Pioneers scored late in the first half to hold a narrow 3-2 lead at intermission, they flexed their youth and added three more goals in the second half to easily prevail.
"It took awhile for us to get going," said head coach Fleur Benatar. "But in the second half we started playing really well and we were able to finish well. It was a good dress rehearsal. We're still trying to find our rhythm. We've got a lot of new starters, a lot of new faces out there, but everyone's feeling good about what we saw."
Junior transfer Brittany Martin made an immediate impact by scoring three goals. Two other new transfers, senior forward Ashley Van Bakel and junior forward Marianne Hubnik, chipped in with one goal apiece, while returning senior midfielder Halla Ali also scored a goal.
For the alumni, Hayde Rivera (2003) and Chastity Hayter (2009) found the back of the net with goals.
"I think the game gave the girls a lot of confidence," Benatar said. "They made some good passes and they felt good about scoring that many goals. They had control of the game. Scoring that many goals was definitely something we needed."
Other than the expected bumps and bruises, the Pioneers have remained injury-free throughout preseason workouts and should be healthy heading into Saturday's opener.
Old friends squaring off
When TWU meets Dallas Baptist in the season opener, two old friends will be squaring off.
Benatar and Dallas Baptist's third-year head coach Michelle Lenard are longtime friends and coaching cohorts dating back to their days at North Texas, where Benatar was an assistant coach and Lenard was finishing up her all-conference career as a Mean Green player.
Benatar, now in her 10th season as the Pioneers' head coach, wound up hiring Lenard - known as Michelle Uselton during her playing days - for her TWU staff for the 2003-04 seasons. Lenard later served as a Mean Green assistant coach for three seasons (2004-06) and is now entering her fourth season as the Patriots' head coach.
Lenard lettered four times at UNT (1999-2002) and was as All-Sun Belt Conference selection in 2001 when the Mean Green captured the conference championship.
Benatar's Pioneers hold a 2-1 advantage over Lenard and the Patriots in their previous meetings.
Abby Burns back in Denton
Softball student-athlete Abby Burns, who underwent a bone marrow transplant last month for treatment of acute myeloid leukemia, has returned to her Denton apartment with the hope of completing some unfinished class work from the spring while she continues recovering from her surgery.
Burns remained hospitalized for several weeks following her surgery at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, but was allowed to return home to Denton last week. She will have to make two trips weekly to Baylor for checkups during her recovery.
"She is back with her friends and is making the best of the situation," said Robyn Readicker, the mother of Jordan Readicker, Burns' teammate and close friend. Robyn Readicker has been a caretaker for Burns throughout her eight-month battle against the disease.
Burns was diagnosed with leukemia in December and underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments throughout the spring before undergoing the bone marrow transplant.