Summertime in southern Italy evokes romantic images of crystal clear seas, cloudless blue skies and stone-baked pizza, but for Hannah Brown and Ciera Disipio, the foothills of Naples will now forever be remembered as the place where they first represented their country at the Summer Universiade.
Followers of Capers athletics will already be familiar with recent graduate Hannah Brown (women's basketball) and fifth-year Community Studies student Ciera Disipio (women's soccer) for their achievements both on and off the field.
Disipio, a back-to-back AUS MVP and top eight Academic All Canadian led the conference in scoring last season and helped CBU to their second consecutive U-Sports national medal. Brown also enjoyed a breakout year in her final season as a Caper, leading the country in scoring and setting a school record for most points scored in a single season. Brown was also named AUS MVP and first-team All-Canadian. It's hard to imagine a better send-off for the North Sydney native who first dreamed of representing CBU when she was just 9 years old.
"Personally, I did not think it could get any better. I didn't know being able to represent Canada was possible, I didn't see that for myself."
The opportunity to represent your country does not come around often, therefore the experience becomes a shared moment between the athlete and their family, friends and coaches. Coaches like Fabian McKenzie, who has personified CBU women's basketball for the last two decades. After finding out that Brown would represent team Canada, McKenzie decided to surprise the fifth-year forward at her home in North Sydney.
"That was a pretty crazy day for me. I got a text from coach Fabe and he said 'I'm coming over.' He showed up at my doorstep and told me and my family 'you're going to play for Canada.' I never could have imagined I would be able to end my career wearing Canada across my chest. For him to be able to tell me, made it that much more special."
Disipio was in Toronto when she received her call-up, having just taken part in the team Canada soccer trials. Despite the overwhelming emotion, Disipio's mind quickly turned to her family and the incredible sacrifices they made in order for her dream to become a reality.
"They were all gathered around the phone when I told them and were ecstatic, to say the least. It was special for them because of the support they've given me through the years. They've seen where I've come from, being that overly competitive little girl on a U6 boys' teams in Ottawa and now representing something so much bigger than myself."
Pulling on your country's jersey at an international tournament is a privilege that has been experienced by very few. For Ciera Disipio, it represented the culmination of an athletic career and the realisation of a lifelong ambition.
"I had so many mixed emotions, being nervous for the game but also just so excited to finally hold the jersey. I had pictured that moment for so long, holding the jersey in my hand. Seeing Canada on the back and having the chance to do it in person was just so special. The second I pulled it over my head, I was fighting back tears."
The tournament itself held mixed results for the CBU contingency. In the women's basketball, Canada went 0-3 in the group stages but managed to find their feet with wins against Argentina and Mexico respectively. Disipio and the women's soccer team advanced through the group stages with a gritty 1-0 win against South Africa however their tournament ended with defeat to the eventual silver medallists, Japan.
Despite being fully focused on the sporting aspect of the trip, there was ample opportunity for Disipio and Brown to explore Naples and it's surrounding areas. The Amalfi coast was a particular highlight for both athletes who were taken aback by the rugged beauty of the coastline and seemingly endless flow of Italy's favourite post-meal liquor.
"We did a boat tour, went swimming and got to see just how beautiful the coastline is." After a brief pause, Brown laughs before announcing. "Limoncello is a big thing over there, it's awesome. The gelato is incredible too. We just loved it."
"The pizza was pretty amazing." Disipio confesses with a nod to her Italian heritage. "I pretty much ate pizza every single day, which has been my dream for a very long time. I definitely got my money's worth in food while I was in Italy."
For Cape Breton basketball legend, Hannah Brown, the experience stands as both a profound testament to her five successful years at CBU and an opportunity to embrace life beyond it.
"It was an incredible learning experience for me. By proving to myself that I could go away, meet new people, be in a new space and feel okay in that space. It was a huge step and one that proves my independence in a lot of ways. I think I needed that to find out what it is I want to do."
It's back to work for Ciera Disipio and the CBU women's soccer program with a trip to Leicester City Football Club in August and Disipio is looking forward to sharing the adventure with her Caper teammates this time around.
"I definitely have not had a summer quite like this. With the experience I've had, I am ready to share those lessons with my CBU family and help them grow. As individuals off the field and as players on the field. It was such a great experience in Italy but at the end of the day my heart still lies with my Caper family."
From Napoli pizza, to Naples and back again. For these two outstanding student-athletes, this experience was not simply an individual accolade, it was an opportunity to grow and share with others. They have helped create a legacy that will stand the test of time, for themselves, for CBU and for their country.
Josh Lines, CAPERS Department of Athletics Contributor