For most students, winter vacation means a break from schoolwork, an opportunity to go home and catch up on a semester’s worth of sleep and a chance to spend time with family and friends. But not for winter athletic teams. For them, winter vacation means the work is only beginning.
To players on the men’s and women’s basketball teams, winter vacation is the busiest time of the year. Aside from receiving a few days to go home around Christmas, these in-season squads stay on campus.
“It’s the one time that they’re here that they can focus on just basketball,” men’s basketball head coach Karl Hobbs said. “It’s very difficult for them when they have study hall, night classes, and at the same time are trying to prepare for important games. During the break, they can just focus on basketball.”
Freshman basketball player Jaz Cowan said that he understands that he has to make sacrifices to play his sport at the collegiate level. With that mindset, he and his teammates make the best of the situation and see vacation as a time to focus exclusively on their sport.
“In order to be a big team, you have to make sacrifices,” he said, pointing out that his team went 2-0 while they were at school over Thanksgiving break.
Cowan’s perspective is not one many freshmen take, as the time away from home is still an adjustment for younger athletes. Many underclassmen said staying on campus during vacation is hard to deal with.
“I’d rather be at home, but it’s okay being here,” sophomore women’s basketball player Greeba Outen-Barlow said. “I live close, so I travel back and forth. It’s still hard. All of my friends from home are regular students and they’re all there.”
Senior basketball players still remember how hard it was during their freshman year but said they have gotten used to it.
“I’m a senior; I’m numb to it,” senior women’s basketball player Erica Lawrence said. “It took a while to get used to. But now, we’re a family within ourselves. It’s not forever; we deal with it.”
Senior men’s basketball player Chris Monroe said he felt the same way but added that he feels at home with his team and at GW.
“For me, I’m home,” the Hyattsville, Md., native said. “I know it’s hard for the freshmen and the ones who live far away, but they chose to play basketball, and it’s a sacrifice. I live close, but for the players who don’t, it is hard because if there is some problem on the court, they can’t just pick up and go home like I can. It just brings the team closer together.”
Basketball is not the only team on campus without a four-week vacation in their near future. Gymnastics, crew and the swimming and diving teams will all cut their breaks short to train for their respective seasons.
The gymnastics squad will return to school Jan. 3 for its last week of preseason practice as it prepares to defend their Atlantic 10 title. The team’s first meet is with the University of Kentucky Jan. 10.
Junior gymnast Rachel Mann agreed that spending vacation at school is a good opportunity for her team to bond. She and her teammates will all live together, as few residence halls remain open over the break.
“We’re one of the only teams here, so we have time to bond with each other,” she said. “There is a lot of intensive training and at times it is hard, but we’re all going through the same thing, so we can relate to each other.”
Team bonding is not the only consolation for teams that train over break. Last year, the swimming and diving teams went to tropical St. Croix for a week of preseason training and competition. In between their two two-hour practices, they had time to lie out on the beach and enjoy themselves. But this year they are back on campus on Jan. 5, without a trip to a sunny beach resort.
Sophomore swimmer Bryan Michels, who said he was disappointed about not going away with his team, said that coming back to GW is not really a problem for him.
“I really don’t mind coming back early,” he said. “It’s when people start getting bored and antsy to get back to school anyway.”
The men’s and women’s crew teams will head to warmer climates, specifically to Tampa University in Florida, for their preseason training. They go away every year to try to get in as many strokes and to pick up as much as they can in that week.
“I love going away every year,” senior Frank Bottino said. “All it is is eat, sleep, row. It gives us a great chance to pick up new techniques and to get in a lot of strokes. Crew is really non-stop training, and it puts us in a good place for the start of the season.”