If It's Friday, It Must Be Duluth
Winter Teams Travel Far Away, But Athletes Seem to Like It
Tired of checking things off your schedule and looking forward to some time off with no commitments this holiday? Count yourself lucky because some Harvard athletes have some pretty serious business to take care of over the holiday season.
During the December break, four Harvard teams will travel to different parts of the U.S. to compete in league and non-league games and tournaments and maybe, just maybe, get a few days at home with their families.
One might expect there to be more than a few grumbles from players upset about the prospect of missing so much vacation time, not to mention that none of the teams traveling this December is going anywhere remotely warm.
The responses were just the opposite, however. Harvard athletes from the four holiday-traveling teams made it crystal-clear that athletics take precedence over leisure. In fact, they were looking forward to holiday competition on the road as a chance to bond and grow stronger as a team.
Take a look at the men's basketball team's (4-2, 0-0 Ivy) holiday schedule and ask how this sounds for a nice holiday respite:
The 10,000 men of Harvard begin their epic journey tomorrow (the last day of classes) at 7:00 p.m. in Lavietes Pavilion against Dartmouth College. The Crimson will face the Big Green in their first league game and probably one of the biggest Ivy League games of the season.
Two days later, the b-ballers pack their bags and trek up into the netherlands of Colgate College for Friday's showdown against the Red Raiders (whom the Crimson beat last year).
The saga does not end there, as the Crimson then races off to the University of Vermont for a December 22nd game against the Catamounts--only three days before Christmas.
The team then gets four uninterrupted days to try and scramble home if they so desire and then must hightail it back to campus for their tournament in New Orleans on December 27th and 28th.
"I think most of us are flying home early on the 23rd and then we have to fly out in the afternoon on the 25th--so it's a little tight in there," sophomore point guard Tim Hill said.
A little tight? How about downright hectic!
But Hill, along with most of the other athletes, seem to agree that the hardest time to miss vacation time and play over the holidays is freshman year.
"I think last year [playing over Christmas break] was a little rougher for me since it was my first year in school," Hill said. "But basketball is a big commitment throughout the whole season--its just something we have to learn to accept and deal with. But I think the team will be focused throughout the holidays and we're looking forward to building up some momentum leading up to the league play which starts in January."
The women's basketball team (5-3, 0-0) doesn't have a much cushier holiday schedule, but it does get a few more days off than the men do, after Christmas Day.
This Wednesday, the team plays Northeastern at home and then has a couple days to get down to Washington D.C. to play George Washington on the 21st and Loyola on the 23rd.
The women are then given leave to return home the night of the 23rd after their game and must report in on the 29th for practice (a.m., of course). Their next game is on January 4th against Dartmouth.
"I personally don't mind [playing over the holidays]." co-captain Kelly Black said. "...Actually, this year we get the longest [break] we've had since I've been here. My freshman year, we only had three days. For freshman, its really hard because you really want to go home and you can't go home for very long."
But the women's basketball team is a Division I team that is fast becoming one of the prides of Harvard athletics, winning the Ivy League title last season. There is certainly not much room on this squad, or on any other competitive Harvard team for that matter, for whining and complaining.
"This is my last basketball season and you only have four years where you have the opportunity to do this, so in the end [playing over the holidays] is worthwhile," senior guard Jessica Gelman said. "Its also a really big bonding experience being here with just the team over Christmas break."
"Every division one team gets a couple days off for Christmas and that's something you know when you come in to play." Black said. "...If you were to go home and just sit around for a week and come back--not only would you be out of shape but you're level of play would be way off its mark, I believe."
Unlike most other ECAC teams, the men's hockey team (5-5-2, 4-4-2) is not playing in a tournament over the holidays but is traveling to a part of the U.S. where many might think of as the definition of winter bleakness--Duluth, Minnesota--to play the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Freshman goalie J.R. Prestifilippo, however, had nothing but positive things to say about the team's trip.
"If anything, I think its even a little easier and more fun [to play over December break]," Prestifilippo said. "Being away from school gives you a chance to only concentrate on hockey and that doesn't happen too often....I'm excited to go home but I'm even more excited to go to Duluth and have a really good time."
Now that the team has won three and tied one in its last four games and is starting to play smart, aggressive hockey, the team's holiday play could keep the Crimson's momentum alive.
"I think it would be way too long of a time period to completely take off and expect to come back in top form the way you left..." Prestifilippo said. "I think [playing over Christmas break] will help maintain that level for us."
The fourth Harvard team to compete over the holiday break is the wrestling team, which is coming off of a very strong showing in the prestigious Las Vegas Invitational Tournament. Joel Friedman, Ed Mosley and Joe Killar are going to Northwestern in Chicago to wrestle in an invitational tournament that usually features an NCAA champion in one of the weight classes. The rest of the team is going to Pennsylvania to wrestle in the Wilkes Open.
"I have to leave on Christmas Day to come back to school here to get ready to wrestle in the midlands....I don't really mind, but it cuts your break short," Joe Killar said.
Since wrestling is a sport of discipline, weight-watching and intense training, an extended layoff would probably be more harmful to a wrestler than for almost any other athlete.
"Certainly you like to be home with your family, but at the same time I like to wrestle so it's part of my commitment," junior James Butera said. "We only have a certain number of matches we can get in before the year so its best if you can exhaust all of your possible competition time--one of the ways to do that is to get in as many tournaments as you can."
If anything, it is an inspiration to see so many Harvard athletes committed to their sport that they willingly sacrifice precious vacation time.
Gelman finished by putting her holiday competition commitment in a real-world perspective: "After college, you're never really going to have more than five or six days off over Christmas anyway," Gelman said. "So in a lot of ways we're kind of just getting prepared for real life."