A working vacation

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February 2, 2007

8:08 PM

This year, senior Sarah Stroh’s entire winter break amounted to the equivalent of most students’ fall break: four days. In fact, the longest winter vacation she can ever recall having at the College was six days. Factor in travel time back to her home in British Columbia on the Pacific coast of Canada, and she only got to see her family for two full days around the Christmas holiday this year. But you won’t hear her gripe much about her lack of vacation. As a member of the women’s basketball team, Stroh is more than used to cutting her time with friends and family short in order to practice and play games.

p. “Everyone would like to be home as long as possible,” Stroh said. “Three days doesn’t seem like a long time, but the reason I’m here is to play basketball. For four years of my life, that’s what I committed myself to do.”

p. Over break, when most students head home to relax and mooch off their parents, members of the men’s and women’s basketball team remain in Williamsburg and work, preparing for the heart of their season.

p. “It’s not vacation. It’s like an extended basketball camp. Basically you eat, sleep and play basketball,” Stroh said. “Some years, we would come in to practice and work out at 11 a.m., and leave when it was dark, around 6 p.m. It pretty much feels like a month-long basketball game.”

p. Freshman members of both teams must live in Williamsburg area hotels, while most of the upperclassmen remain in their off-campus apartments. Stroh, who has lived on campus all four years, is an exception and lived with the women’s team at a local Days Inn this year.

p. Given a daily food stipend of $7, players must also deal with the closure of campus dining halls.

p. “I like campus life better, especially with students back,” freshman men’s basketball player David Schneider said. “The UC and Caf are good because you have a meal right there and you don’t have to go looking for food.”

p. This winter break, when other students were probably resting at home sipping on egg nog, both the men’s and women’s teams rattled off impressive seven-game win streaks. In previous seasons, both programs have hit cold slumps, losing several games in a row during late December and early January. Senior guard Adam Payton credited some of the men’s holiday success, capped off by a 67-63 road upset over 2006 Final Four participant George Mason University earlier this month, to having fewer distractions.

p. “When there’s no class and when students leave, there’s nothing to do but play ball and focus,” Payton said.

p. There are no NCAA rules governing how long coaches can keep players occupied with basketball over break. “It’s not just sit in your apartment time,” he said. The team often practiced twice per day.

p. The small amount of vacation can be a problem for some players who don’t live close to campus. A native of Burlington, N.J., Payton drives home to visit family for the holidays. Last year, with only five days of vacation, Payton found himself hustling back to Williamsburg as the team was preparing to leave for a road game. Sitting in a traffic jam, he missed a whole practice.

p. This year, Payton’s wife, Sharena, traveled down from New Jersey with him after Christmas and stayed through New Year’s Day.

p. “It’s definitely hard to have a family while in school, but I know right after I graduate I’ll be back with them,” he said.

p. Stroh, who must fly home, said however many days the team has off for vacation, she usually subtracts two for travel time. This year she intended to leave the College at 6 a.m. Dec. 22 and arrive in Seattle at 11 a.m., but the flight was changed a month before its departure and she was not able to leave Williamsburg before 11 a.m. Scheduled to arrive in Seattle early in the evening, her plane did not land until after midnight. It took another two-hour drive into Canada before she was home. A whole day was shot.

p. “It’s very hectic, but I’ve learned to be calm over the years,” Stroh said.

p. Unlike Stroh and Payton, Schneider lives closer to Williamsburg and doesn’t have to worry as much about travel arrangements. He went to Charlottesville to spend time with his mom and grandmother during the team’s four-day break this year. Originally from Arizona, his family moved to Myrtle Beach, S.C., so they were better able to travel to watch him play over break.

p. “Having family really close, that’s a bonus for me,” he said.

p. While suiting up for the Tribe ultimately means that all three players must forfeit most of their winter break, they still enjoy all the time they dedicate to playing basketball.

p. “I kind of wish I had a bigger break,” Payton said. “But I love the sport and I have learned to play it all the time.”

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