Men’s water polo trip abroad in Montenegro

Assistant Athletic Director – Athletic Academic Consulting Services Matt Casaña has joined the LMU men’s water polo team on an overseas tour in Montenegro. Here are his travelogues:

Throughout my time at LMU I have taken a few overseas training trips with some of our teams (Men’s Soccer, Women’s Soccer and Men’s Basketball) and have always found the away team were beneficial for both training and team building. Usually these trips were 7-11 days long, but this one, with LMU men’s water polo, was scheduled for 18 days. I was a little worried at first that it might take too long for a team to be together on a trip. But as we come to the end of an incredible team trip to Montenegro, I can say it has been a joy to watch these student-athletes grow in their training and come together as a team. Of course, there are issues that arise along the way, but I feel that student-athletes learn to communicate both in and out of the water.

As we flew from Istanbul to Podgorica, I could hear some of the guys commenting on the Bulgarian and Albanian mountain villages below that seemed so isolated from the rest of the world. For half of the student-athletes on this trip, it was their first experience of international travel. For the other half, they grew up outside the United States or have traveled a decent amount in their lifetime.

When we landed in Podgorica, the two things we noticed were the size of the airport (a bit smaller than LAX) and the sweltering humidity. After clearing customs, we boarded the charter bus for Budva, on the southern coast of Montenegro. The bus ride was quick and we quickly descended the mountain switchbacks to the Adriatic Sea and the charming town of Budva.

Budva is a tourist hub for many Eastern European families and individuals. During our stay in Budva we could hear Serbian, Montenegrin, Italian and Russian as we walked around the city. The team began training the day after we arrived and Coach Loughran made sure to get the student-athletes into a training program. The indoor pool was different from what the guys were used to, as we were training outside, but the team quickly adapted to their new training environment. While in Budva, the team had regular training sessions, technical training with a former Serbian national coach and a few scrums with the local Budva water polo club.

Outside of training, the team was able to take advantage of the local setting. From Old Town Budva and Hawaii (an island off the coast) to Przno Beach, where we sampled some of the best seafood at Konoba More (a family-owned restaurant Blazo Mitrovic, team member). Our stay in Budva was quick, then we left for Lake Skadar for a day trip, where we say the silhouettes of the mountains of Albania. After lunch on the lake, we headed to the mountains of northwest Montenegro for a white water rafting adventure.

The drive to the Tara River encountered stunning mountain views that rival Yosemite and Yellowstone. As soon as we arrived at the campsite on the Tara River, we realized that across the river from where we were was the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Besides the excitement of traveling to a new country, the guys were so fascinated by the turquoise color of the river. The next day, we took a grueling ride in Bosnia and Herzegovina, on a ridge line up the Tara River. Our time on the river was just what this team needed halfway through the trip. The guys worked together in their boats, competed against other boats to see who could descend the river faster, jumped off cliffs into the cold blue waters and hung out at a waterfall. After it was over we all agreed we could have stayed another night but that was in Herceg Novi.

Herceg Novi is a beautiful seaside town in the Bay of Kotor, just a few kilometers from the Croatian border. Our stay in Herceg Novi was wonderful. The outdoor pool is right on the bay with an old fort, flying the Montenegrin flag, watching the guys training. We played the Australian national under-18 team and the reserves of the Montenegrin national team in Herceg Novi. We look forward to the few remaining days of the trip as we head to Dubrovnik for a day of adventure (where Game of Thrones was filmed) and a scrimmage against Croatia’s junior national team. Then it was off for a workout in the medieval town of Kotor, across the bay from where we are now.

This trip was filled with great training opportunities, team building, great food, amazing scenery and will be an experience none of us will forget.

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