By: Grant Wall
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The adjustment to college can be hard as students move away from home and are living on their own for the first time. For Claire Rockall, that adjustment was more than moving a few towns or states away. An ocean separates her and her family.
Rockall, a freshman guard for the Iowa State women’s basketball team, hails from Oranmore, Ireland. The distance from home figured to make her first Christmas in college a trying experience. But Christmas came early for Rockall when her father and twin brother visited Ames.
“They get to come over and spend Christmas with me here,” Rockall said. “I looked into flights to go home and it didn’t really work out, so they get to spend Christmas over here in the States.”
The Christmas visit has been in the works for several months. The Cyclones got their schedule in September and Rockall’s eyes immediately fell to the games in late December. Because there were games on both Dec. 21 and another on Dec. 29, that didn’t leave enough time to fly to Ireland and back in time to prepare for the first game after Christmas.
That is when the plan was hatched for her family to come to her.
“I was really looking forward to it,” Rockall said. “I’ll be able to stay with them and spend the holidays with them.
“We’re just going to hang out. My dad came over here (when the fall semester started) with me, but my brother has never been here. We are going to show him around and then spend the time together.”
After the Cyclones' 58-42 victory over Minnesota on Dec. 21, Rockall’s dad and brother were waiting for her outside the locker room.
“She’s been smiling like I haven’t seen her smile,” Cyclones coach Bill Fennelly said. “You sit there in the locker room and you see teammates leaving to go home and see family and you are sitting there and saying, ‘That’s not me.’
“But she was sitting there knowing that she has two people who care about her deeply that she gets to see when she walks out of the locker room, that helps. She couldn’t go to Ireland, but Ireland came to her.”
Rockall’s transition to America has been eased by teammate Alison Lacey, who has been through a similar situation. Lacey grew up in Canberra, Australia, before coming to Ballard, Iowa, as a foreign exchange student for her senior year of high school.
“Alison was one of the first girls on the team to approach me when I got here,” Rockall said. “She told me if I ever had any questions to come to her because she has already been through it all. That was really helpful.”
Lacey was more then happy to lend a hand to her new teammate.
“I told her, ‘I know exactly what you are going through. I know it’s hard and there are a lot of cultural things you have to get used to,’” Lacey said. “I talked to her about what she might go through and what she might expect.”
Technology has also helped Rockall’s transition to America. She said she talks to friends and family back home almost every day, using the Internet to stay connected.
Iowa State's roster has 15 players from nine different states or countries. That geographic diversity can make the holiday season an emotional time. While the players may not get to spend much time at home during the season, Fennelly and his staff work hard to make sure the Cyclone family stays close, especially for players like Rockall and Lacey who can’t make it home at all.
“When you think of Christmas and the holidays, the word that immediately comes to mind is home,” Fennelly said. “All the coaches are going home, many of the players are going home and they (foreign players) can’t do that. I don’t envy them and I have the utmost respect for a young person who has to do that. I don’t know many of use who could do that.
“I’m 51-years-old, and I can’t wait to see my mom and dad and to sit on the couch and talk to my brothers, to do what you’re supposed to do this time of year. It’s not an easy thing.”
The Cyclones returned to Ames for practice the day after Christmas. Fennelly traditionally hosts a party for the team the night of the first post-Christmas practice. Fennelly’s wife Deb cooks for the team and they spend the night being together. They also enjoy time as a team outside of practice during the holiday break.
“They don’t have to worry about school,” Fennelly said. “It’s basketball and trying to really build the chemistry within the team. We do a lot of things on a daily basis where we will all go to a movie or go bowling. We do something where the intensity of basketball isn’t there and we can all relax and enjoy ourselves.”
For Rockall, her Christmas was made special by having both her family and her Cyclone family with her to celebrate. The season was made all that more special by a gift she was able to give her dad and brother – a white Christmas.
“We don’t get any snow at home,” Rockall said. “The other day I wanted the snow to come and some of my roommates were complaining about it, but I really wanted it to snow so my dad and brother could have a white Christmas over here.”