ABOARD AMTRAK REGIONAL 174 (AP) — Brenda Frese always wants to give her team new experiences.
So Maryland's coach decided to have the Terrapins take the train instead of a bus to Connecticut on Thursday for the NCAA Tournament regional.
"So many of them had never ridden the train before and it was an opportunity to let them have a new exciting adventure," Frese said aboard the Northeast Regional train to Bridgeport. "We were too close to fly and the train gave us a lot more room than a bus would."
The Maryland players and coaches sat together in the front car, watching game film, sleeping or listening to their iPods. They had plenty of room to stretch out with their own private car away from the rest of the passengers. They also sang "Happy Birthday" to freshman Kaila Charles.
Frese also had the Terrapins ride the train when they played in the Bridgeport Regional in 2013. They lost to UConn in the semifinals that year and are hoping for a better outcome when they face 10th-seeded Oregon on Saturday.
Besides the team, Frese had her family on board. Her husband Mark and twin sons Markus and Tyler sat together with the coach. Frese and her husband also had their parents along for the ride.
For decades, train travel was the norm for pro and college teams. Nowadays, it's more a novelty, with many pro clubs and college teams flying in their own private planes. UConn took the train down to Philadelphia for a regular-season game seven years ago as a way to save money.
The train trip was possible because the NCAA won't fly teams to sites if they are within 350 miles of the arena. The trip from Maryland's campus to the Bridgeport Arena is roughly 280 miles. The NCAA pays for two buses when teams can't fly, which left Maryland to pick up the cost of the train tickets, roughly $100 a person.
The Terrapins boarded the Amtrak train at the Baltimore airport stop and took the four-hour ride to Stamford, Connecticut. They had plenty of food on board.
"It's my first time on the train," said guard Destiny Slocum, who is from Idaho. "I made sure that people woke me up when we were coming through Philadelphia and New York. It was cool to see a different view of the cities."
Of the 15 players on the team, only two were train "veterans" — sophomore forward Brianna Fraser and freshman guard Blair Watson. The two grew up in New York and New Jersey. The rest had never been on Amtrak before.
"It's been a lot of fun, I didn't realize how comfy the seats are," said freshman Sarah Myers, who is from Georgia. "It's great to have a new experience and check that off the list. Never seen New York before, never been through New Jersey and Philadelphia before."
Myers definitely preferred the train to the bus.
"It's definitely a lot easier," she said. "The seats are a lot bigger and it feels a lot more spacious for us to get around."
Sophomore forward Kiah Gillespie had an extra passenger with her. Sitting to her right was Mr. Sirr — a teddy bear she's had since fifth grade. The bear always makes trips with Gillespie when the Terrapins travel and he, too, was taking his first train trip.
The Terrapins loaded up their team bus with their gear and bags before getting on the train in Maryland. The bus met them in Stamford to drive the final 45 minutes to their hotel. Since the Terrapins bought their train tickets Monday, Amtrak couldn't guarantee them their own car to New Haven, where they are staying.
Maryland's trip came one day before an Amtrak train derailed in New York, shutting down service in the area for nearly 5 hours.
"We are so relieved and glad to hear that there have been no reported injuries in the Amtrak incident today," Frese said. "Our team had a great experience and it just makes you appreciate each moment."
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