Senior Linda Okonkowski, a captain of the swim team, described training over Christmas Break as “one of the perks of being in college athletics.”
Swim coach Kurt Kirner said the Hillsdale College swim team will be going to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from Jan. 3 to Jan. 12. In the early mornings and late evenings, the women will practice hard, but anytime in between, the athletes get to lay out on the beach.
“[Many schools in the GLIAC] don’t go anywhere,” Okonkowski said. “They just all come back to campus and practice at their home pool.”
She described the team as “pretty fortunate” for the trip to Florida.
During the break, she said the team focuses not only the training, but also on growing together as a team.
“We always end up being closer when we get back in January than when we left,” she said. “The training will be hard, but the team bonding – that’s the important part.”
“We’re not here in snowy Michigan,” she added. “That’s definitely a perk.”
While other Hillsdale teams do not enjoy the privilege of sunny beaches, both basketball teams agreed that training over Christmas break is a positive experience.
Women’s basketball coach Claudette Charney described the training as a break that allows the students to focus on practicing their sport. She also said that it’s good for the coaches.
“We have more time to care for them as an athlete,” she said.
Charney emphasized the time required to improve in college athletics. This time set aside for practice during Christmas break, he said, allows the girls to invest in their sport.
Men’s basketball coach John Tharp explained that athletes cannot practice during the entire break, however, and must get time off from Dec. 20 to Dec. 26.
“It’s a great rule,” he said, because it gives time for the coaches and students to celebrate Christmas at home with their families.
The men will play their last game on Saturday, Dec. 17, then stay in Hillsdale until Dec. 20. They return to campus on Dec. 27 when they will play in a tournament on Dec. 30 and 31.
“It’s a nice time to grow,” said junior Lea Jones, one of the four women’s basketball captains.
Stephanie Schell, assistant women’s coach, laid out the Christmas break training routine:
“Team practice in the morning, individual in the afternoon.”
She described the practices as hard.
“We just had Christmas, so we’re all in Christmas mode,” she said. “We wouldn’t be able to do it without our team. We get through it together.”
Tharp aims to make it a generally enriching experience.
“We use that time for not only the basketball part of it, but we hope to give back to the community and to make sure our guys meet a variety of different people,” he said.
In addition to practice and team bonding, they plan to serve in the community and bring in “a variety of guest speakers,” such as businessmen.
Without anyone else on campus, Tharp said, the team becomes discouraged and overworked. He described the practices as “an incredible grind.” Because of this, he said he wants to add in some other experiences.
“You’re trying to gear them up to hit their stride spring semester,” he said. “It’s a balance.”