While walking along the streets of Seville, Spain, Meredith Monroe had plenty of time to reflect.
But even though the town was quiet and the shops were closed, Monroe didn't have time to take a siesta.
So what if it was the hottest part of the day and the nearest gym was a mile away, the Lady Lions' 6-foot-1 forward knew she still had shots to take and conditioning exercises to complete.
Her team was coming off its worst season under coach Coquese Washington, and an 11-18 mark didn't sit well with one of the newly elected captains.
It was going to take a lot more than soccer balls flying at her from athletes sharing the facility's one gym to keep her off the court. Monroe was more than 3,000 miles away from her teammates while doing a summer study abroad and, despite coming off of her best collegiate season, she felt she still had more to give.
That same work ethic and consistency that Monroe provides coming off the bench gives the Lions an incresed sense of confidence.
"She's been through the fires," Washington said. "And she just has this level of confidence about herself and about her game that allows her to come in and give us solid contributions every time she steps on the court."
Through nine games the senior has played 130 minutes while posting 48 points and pulling down 40 rebounds.
"She's doing exactly what you want a senior to do, which is to be solid," Washington said. "She comes to every game, and I know what I'm going to get from her, and there are no surprises. She's in the right spots all the time, she's really being aggressive rebounding the ball and she's hitting her shots in the paint, which for her in the past have been a little bit of a struggle."
Her numbers this season are very solid and what has Washington pleased is the fact that her statistics are drastic increases over the numbers she posted last season. Monroe played 220 minutes last year, had 51 points and 57 rebounds. She has nearly matched those totals this season while playing 90 less minutes, and the team still has at least 20 more games to play.
The senior's improved performance can in part be attributed to her health. While the forward didn't want to let on that she wasn't 100 percent last season, Monroe was unable to do a lot of running in practice because of a torn meniscus in her right knee.
The forward played most of last season with the injury and despite dealing with pain and being unable to have complete range of motion in her knee, she waited until the season was over to get the tear repaired.
She could have had the procedure done during the season but decided to wait until it was over because she wanted to continue to help the team push through the season's ups and downs.
"I mean I've hurt myself before," Monroe said about playing through pain. "I try not to think about how much it's hurting. I just think about what I can do and how loud I can be on the bench and how I can influence my team."
It's instances like Monroe's ability to fight through injuries that make her a mentally tough player who her teammates and coaches respect.
Knowing her role
It was Nov. 19 and the Lady Lions went on the road to take on Bucknell. Monroe prepared like usual and was sure to get in all of her pregame warmups, but at the last moment was thrust into the starting lineup because Washington decided to alter the rotation.
On that night, Monroe had the chance to start in her third-ever Lady Lions game. While she admitted to not being too nervous because she was thrust into the starting lineup during a similar situation her sophomore year, she said just being a senior gives her enough confidence that she get the job done.
As player introductions began, Monroe ran through the line created by her teammates and slapped them high fives. She took her place near half court and the smile on her face made it look like as if she was a wily veteran who was just going through the customary pregame motions.
The Bison certainly couldn't tell that Monroe wasn't expecting to start as they had trouble stopping her during the game's opening minutes. The forward made the most of her start as she recorded two baskets down low and unleashed two powerful blocks.
Even though Monroe played only nine minutes in the game, she was able to accomplish what's been her No. 1 goal since arriving at Penn State: contribute.
"Coming in, I think I was just like every other freshman," Monroe said. "I set these goals for myself where I wanted to be starting by my junior year and stuff like that... but the more you see what role you are and the more you mature, you understand that it's important to be whatever type of player you are."
Leading by example
Washington believes there's something to be said for a player like Monroe who can provide her young teammates with some type of stability.
When Monroe kneels at the scorer's table and checks into any game, the coach feels that the forward's presence, coupled with her productivity, sends calmness to her teammates.
And her teammates can feel the type of relaxation that Washington is talking about.
"I think she's great for her role. She's an awesome captain," senior Nicole Arcidiacono said. "She's a vocal leader as well and she's able to be on the floor with the team and keep everyone's moods elevated and energy and intensity going and not let the little things get to her."
At 6-foot-1, Monroe has the ability to work the post, but she realizes that she's better suited as a power forward. However, that doesn't create much frustration or a lack of determination to stop her from taking on the bigger players.
When Monroe was recruited in 2005 by former Lions head coach Rene Portland, Portland said in a press release that Monroe's ability to be an aggressive defender and have a physical presence in the post would make her a good fit for Penn State. While Portland has since moved on, Monroe's classmates have noticed her transformation from a high school center to a collegiate forward.
"Meredith has grown a lot since we've gotten here together as freshmen," senior Tyra Grant said. "She's very aggressive, and she'll go after the rebounds. She's a little post player, but she'll go after the biggest one. She has a lot of heart and tenacity and she'll go after everything."
Going out with a bang
Monroe realizes the most important part of her collegiate experience both as a basketball player and as a finance major depends on her ability to finish strong.
Whether it's making sure to get extra time in the gym to work on her shooting in the paint, or traveling to a foreign country to become a more fluent speaker for her Spanish minor, Monroe is more focused than ever.
And she attributes her trip to Seville as the main reason why she's rejuvenated for the final stretch of her collegiate career.
"In other countries they have so much fun just going out and playing either soccer or basketball," she said. "Now when I go out on the court I think that it's not necessarily a pick up game, but it's like I'm having just as much fun as I would if I was just playing with my friends."
While the walk back and forth to the gym in Seville certainly wasn't part of Washington's idea of a summer workout plan, it has helped Monroe realize that sometimes the road less traveled can lead to some of the best results.
And Wednesday night, Monroe fought off the pregame jitters as she sprinted onto the court and looked up, almost in awe at what was happening. It was a role reversal, and the captain could do nothing but smile.
As she stood beyond the three-point line and gave her teammates high fives, it was the players on the bench who were telling their captain that she needed to calm down and just play.
Even while Washington hinted to Monroe that she would start during the shoot around, the forward didn't believe it until she took part in the tip drill. And the starting nod capped off a career night for the captain.
Monroe was on fire. She showcased that smooth jump shot that she worked so hard to perfect this summer and her teammates shouted and clapped for her, much like she's always done for them.
When the media timeout happened just five minutes into the game, the forward had proven to herself and to her competition that she had come a long way. Her nine points, six rebounds and one block had Washington grinning from ear to ear as the captain took a seat on the bench.
Monroe would add two more points and another rebound later during the half as she helped lead her team to victory.
And Monroe knew it was a special night, especially considering just one week earlier she was struggling to walk because of a knee injury. But Wednesday night, the senior did what she's done so many times before in her career -- kept moving forward.
"This is definitely my best start I've had," Monroe said after pausing to think back to a time in high school where she played well against St. Mary's Ryken.
After saying that maybe her one high school game was better, her coach was quick to disagree.
"No, this was the best start of her basketball career," Washington added.
As always, the senior deferred to her coach.
"OK, yeah I guess this one was better," Monroe joked.
Still, she admits being a little nervous in the starting role.
"But having my team talking to me the whole time saying 'you're gonna be fine, you're gonna be fine, calm down,' it definitely helped," Monroe said.
After all, her teammates learned how to be positive influences on the bench by following the lead of their resilient captain.