All aboard! No. 1 UConn trains to Philly
Maya Moore was eager to ride the rails, and playfully encouraged her teammates to hop on Friday. The train was about to leave the station, and the Connecticut star didn't want any of her Huskies to miss this trip.
Looking for a fun way to get to Philadelphia for a game this weekend, coach Geno Auriemma and the nation's No. 1 women's basketball team got on track.
``I always thought it would be neat to do it,'' Auriemma said aboard Amtrak Northeast Regional train 137. ``We don't have to worry about sitting in traffic. I'm glad we got a chance to do it.''
While the ride gave the Huskies a new experience, it also helped save the school a lot of money. A charter plane can cost nearly $40,000 for a trip, but the train was around $100 per person.
``Financially, it helps,'' Auriemma said. ``I'd be lying if I didn't say a lot of it has to do with the state of the economy and the state of affairs. It costs a lot of money to charter planes and I thought there were opportunities during the season to do something different.''
The Huskies bused an hour from their campus in Storrs to the station in New London for the nearly 4 1/2-hour ride. Connecticut will play Villanova on Saturday afternoon and then bus home.
For decades, train travel was the norm for pro and college teams. Nowadays, it's more a novelty, with many clubs flying in their own private planes.
The New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies, however, both rode trains during the World Series. It was a quick, 1-hour ride - the Yankees took a private train of about six cars from midtown Manhattan to center city Philly, then boarded buses after Game 5.
The New York Knicks and other NBA teams sometimes choose to charter a train to Philadelphia if they are playing on consecutive nights. It's pretty convenient because Madison Square Garden sits directly on top of Penn Station.
UConn wasn't the only Big East team taking the train this weekend. The Rutgers men's basketball team rode Amtrak to its game at Georgetown.
The Huskies took the 3:17 p.m. local train that started in Boston and eventually headed to Washington D.C.
Auriemma was the last one to board, dressed in casual business attire topped by a hat similar to the one Sylvester Stallone wore in the ``Rocky'' movies - fitting for the Philly-born coach.
``That's the way the old guys traveled back then,'' Auriemma said. ``Jimmy Stewart had his hat on ready to go. Sinatra getting on the train. I've just always loved hats.''
The UConn players and coaches sat together in the last car, dressed in team sweat suits, doing homework, listening to their iPods, singing and playing cards. They had plenty of room to stretch out as they had their own private car away from the rest of the passengers.
``When Coach first mentioned it, we were like, Why are we doing that when we can just take a plane that would take about a half-an-hour?''' senior forward Meghan Gardler said. ``But when we thought about it, it was something cool.''
Gardler is from Philadelphia and will be playing in front of about 100 family and friends on Saturday.
When they arrived at the New London station an hour early, the Huskies were left alone by the businessmen and families in the station. The UConn players occasionally ventured out to the snack car, negotiating the slight, back-and-forth tilt of the train, and drew some stares from fellow passengers.
``A few people noticed us as we walked through, but no one really bothered us,'' Moore said. ``It was like they saw four tall girls wearing Connecticut gear and in a flash we were gone.''
Moore remembered her first trip on a train, riding from Jefferson City, Mo., to Chicago when she was a child to visit her grandparents.
``This definitely felt a lot shorter than that one,'' she said. ``My biggest memory from that trip was having my mom waiting at the station to pick me up when I got off the train.''
One thing that hasn't been different about the Huskies this season has been their play. UConn has powered past its opponents en route to an 18-0 record this season and a 57-game winning streak overall.
The Huskies have won every game by double digits during the streak. The UConn express is just 13 wins short of matching the NCAA record of 70 straight victories they set from 2001-03.
The Huskies got off in Philadelphia and boarded a waiting charter bus to their hotel.
``It was great, we may just do it again next year when we play St. John's,'' Auriemma said. ``Get off at the Garden.''