When she ended her collegiate career at Loyola Chicago, Cal Poly women’s basketball head coach Faith Mimnaugh played professionally in Australia.
Mimnaugh’s travels have also taken her to far-off places like Fiji, New Zealand and Norway.
One part of the world Mimnaugh has never visited, however, is Central America, a fact she and Mustangs men’s basketball coach Joe Callero can both claim — until today.
Mimnaugh and her team will join Callero and his squad for an NCAA sanctioned international tour of Costa Rica.
The teams depart for Los Angeles, fly out late this evening and each will play a total of three exhibition games and participate in a number of cultural exchange and teambuilding activities during a weeklong stay.
College programs are allowed one international trip every four years, and this will be the first for the Cal Poly women. The men’s team visited Australia in 2007.
“I’ve never been to Costa Rica,” Mimnaugh said, “but I’ve heard hundreds of people, boosters included, just over the moon about it.”
The women’s team has been saving for years for an international tour. Mimnaugh said the team raised half the money for its trip, about $20,000, from its golf tournament fundraiser the past two years.
Originally, Mimnaugh had hoped to take the Mustangs to Ireland, where they could reunite with former teammate and reigning Big West Player of the Year Rachel Clancy, but when assistant coach Julie Shaw left for Gonzaga in the offseason, Mimnaugh said she realized it was probably easier to utilize a travel company rather than take over the trip planning from Shaw.
The men’s team already had its trip scheduled through one such company, and it made sense as a destination for the women as well.
One of Callero’s brothers owns property in Costa Rica, as do a number of alumni, and former university president Warren Baker was influential in helping Cal Poly develop a College of Agriculture for the Humid Tropics in Costa Rica.
“It’s very safe. It’s very clean, and there’s enough Poly people,” Callero said.
Both teams will attend a welcome luncheon hosted by the family of former Cal Poly soccer standout and Costa Rica native David Zamora.
It’s also a cost-effective destination. Callero said flight tickets were between $400 and $500 cheaper per person than they would have been to Europe, which would save approximately $10,000 in airfare alone.
“I’m sure there are programs that have money laying around,” Mimnaugh said, “but that’s not us.”
The compromise in traveling to Central America instead of a European country with a more developed basketball tradition is the sacrifice in competition level.
The men will play one game against the national team and two others against local club teams. Mimnaugh was unsure exactly who her team would play, but the focus is more on her team than the opposition.
Though there will be plenty of sightseeing and relaxation, these international trips are not all about rewarding players with a vacation.
A significant benefit is having an earlier start to the season.
Both the men and women were allowed 10 practices leading up to the tour and normally would not have been allowed to have official practice sessions until the start of school in mid-September.
“The outside competition we don’t anticipate being as strong as a European nation would be,” Mimnaugh said, “but it gives us an amazing advantage to be able to train together.”
Added Callero: “To have that time to put 30 more hours into a transition game and into some extended presses, it doesn’t mean we’re pressing all game, every game, but it allows us to pick up the tempo.”
Both teams will have most of their full rosters on the trip, but a couple of players will be sidelined.
Sophomore guard Kyle Odister is still recovering from ankle surgery, and Callero does not need to press him into action.
Senior forward Kristina Santiago, a former Big West Player of the Year, is in a similar situation with the women. She is prepared to play for the women this season after tearing her ACL in last year’s season opener, but Mimnaugh isn’t taking any chances by bringing her back for an exhibition game.
Santiago’s rehab has gone perfectly, Mimnaugh said.
“I’m just amazed at how well her surgeon has done in preparing her and all the rehab she has done,” Mimnaugh said. “She looks fantastic. You won’t even be able to tell. She’s moving so smoothly and is very aggressive in her play.”