Back at quiet campuses, Seton Hill, Saint Vincent athletes keep busy during downtime
The holiday break will end Tuesday for students enrolled in the January term at Seton Hill University, but team schedules brought participants in some winter sports back to the school's Greensburg campus this week.
Kelly Weeks, a freshman from Rochester, N.Y., and Alexandra Hay, a senior from Ontario, Canada, are among members of the Griffins women's basketball squad who reaffirmed their bonds with their teammates after cutting short holiday reunions with their family and friends in their hometowns.
Team members returned Wednesday to begin practices in the McKenna Center gym, preparing for a home game against Slippery Rock University at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“It's a weird experience. I've never done this before,” Weeks said of being back at Seton Hill with the majority of the campus population missing.
Weeks, a forward/guard, noted other rooms on her dorm floor remain empty during the break, so she's sought out her teammates on other floors to share the downtime between practice sessions.
“There's mostly just a lot of free time,” she said. “A lot of us will go to the movies or go out to dinner together, and we play a lot of cards and just hang out.”
Hay, a point guard, completed a seven-hour drive to return to Seton Hill. She can recall battling homesickness when she was a freshman. Now, she said, “I'm kind of used to it. You want to put all your effort into being here, being with the team and enjoying each other's company.”
Team-bonding began before the break when the Griffins squad split into two groups to complete “escape room” challenges. They've also planned a Secret Santa gift exchange.
“We have some (players) at home with injuries, so we'll probably do it in the new year,” Hay said of the gifting. “We have potluck and bring whatever we have in our rooms. We try to bring some fun to it.”
The women will have New Year's Day off, in between morning practices on New Year's Eve and on Tuesday.
“It's a nice day to have off,” Hay said, noting, “most of us are going off campus, to a friend's or our own homes.”
Hay is planning a three-hour drive to visit her boyfriend, a fellow Seton Hill student athlete, at his home in Ohio.
Another teammate, senior Lindsey Mifsud, intends to stay with a friend in South Park rather than attempting a trip back to her family home in Erie. She dug her car out from under 3 feet of snow before she could drive back to Seton Hill earlier this week. “It took forever for us to shovel out our driveway and cars,” she said. “It was a mess.”
Mifsud will miss out on her mother's New Year's Day brunch. But, she noted, “You can only be with your parents so long.”
The Seton Hill campus won't get back into full swing until Jan. 18, when the traditional spring semester begins. But coach Mark Katarski has some community service efforts planned to keep the women's team busy in between the six games they will play to start off 2018.
Next week, the team will head just north of Greensburg to hold a practice session at the Clelian Heights School for Exceptional Children, for students age 5 to 21 with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Later, the Seton Hill players will host a youth basketball clinic.
“We have a team where we try to help and serve others,” Katarski said, noting he tries to find a balance between scheduled team activities and free time for his players. “You don't want to over-program them.”
At Saint Vincent College in Unity, members of the men's basketball squad are engaged in their own balancing act — fitting holiday plans into their team's schedule. The Bearcats also are preparing for a Saturday game — 3 p.m. at Hood College in Frederick, Md. — followed by a trip Wednesday to play at Bethany College in West Virginia.
Last season, forward Tom Kromka, then a junior, wasn't able to make it to the holiday gift exchange that is a tradition for his mother's family. “I try to make it to as many of my family events as I can. If you can't make it, you learn to live with it,” he said. “My family understands that we have a somewhat demanding schedule for basketball.”
Because he lives in Monroeville, just 45 minutes from campus, he'll likely spend New Year's Eve at home and drive back to Saint Vincent for a Bearcats practice session on New Year's Day.
But, he said, “If it doesn't work out, I always have my teammates to hang out with.”
During their free evenings on campus, he said, the team members enjoy camaraderie while watching movies, playing board games or visiting a local restaurant.
Fellow senior Matt D'Amico, a shooting guard from Fox Chapel, shares an off-campus house with three other people and is able to prepare meals for himself and guests.
“A lot of the (players) are coming over here and hanging out,” he said. “We have a pingpong table in our living room, so we have some pingpong battles.”
But after many practices, he said, “A lot of us are pretty tired. We just want to lie down, chill and watch movies.”
Many of the senior student athletes realize this will be their last season playing the sport they love with teammates they've befriended — and they embrace extra time spent with them, on and off the court.
“You make the best of every day you can,” D'Amico said.