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ASU's winter-sports warriors reflect on life during season

student swimmer in pool
December 14, 2015

When we picture Arizona State University’s student-athletes, it’s often during moments of glory — a game-winning shot, the celebration of victory, a smile after wonderful execution.

What you don’t envision is an athlete sitting in his or her dorm room, on a campus that feels like a ghost town during winter break.

“The hardest part of playing this time of year is seeing everyone at school going home,” said Jennifer Morgan, a senior on ASU’s swim team. “It’s pretty dead and lonely on campus around that time, but we have a big team so the loneliness isn’t too bad.”

From colder weather to final exams, ASU’s winter-sports athletes have a different experience during their season than those who play during the spring or fall; chiefly, that gap in the school year when there are no classes in session, but there are still games to be played and practices to attend.

“During winter break we have Christmas training camp, three weeks of full training and one week off,” Morgan said. “We’re allowed to travel during that one week so I go back home to Canada to see my family.”

Other than that seven-day reprieve, it’s time spent ensuring the teams stay in shape, and in sync. And, yes, some time off can really affect a team’s chemistry.

“Even Thanksgiving break is enough to throw us out of rhythm,” said Wes Starr, a right wing on ASU’s hockey team. “This break will be good for us though ’cause we have injured guys that need to heal up.”

As someone who plays both ice hockey and baseball, Starr is in a perfect position to gauge the differences between the winter and summer seasons.

“It’s easier to play during the summer season because during the summer there’s no school and the weather’s nicer. With ice hockey being an indoor sport, it’s more difficult for me to focus on it than baseball, because during the summer I just want to be outside,” he said.

Wait, weather is an issue in this winter paradise?

“The cold doesn’t affect performance because we have our competitions indoors,” Morgan said of the swim meets. “It’s more of a problem during practice because ASU only has outdoor pools, so we get cold by the [diving] blocks, which tightens up our bodies. We get cold at the pre-race, but it’s something you adapt to.”

ASU swimmer posing in front of pool

ASU swimmer Jennifer Morgan plans to take a week off this holiday break to visit her family in Edmonton, Alberta. She will intensely train the other three weeks as she is working to make the Canadian Olympic team in the spring. The senior is also wrapping up her communications program from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication with a leadership certificate. Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

They’re not the only ones suffering.

Swimming stud Michael Phelps and other U.S. Olympic athletes practice in the same facility as ASU’s swimming and diving team. They arrived on campus in the summer of 2015 to train for the 2016 Olympic Games.

“They’re not allowed to help the team during practice because of NCAA rules,” Morgan said. “But Phelps’ coach Bob Bowman is the coach of our team now. It’s great getting to have a decorated Olympic coach like that training us.”

So, yes, there are some perks to staying here on campus during winter break and practicing in the cold.

And there are some advantages to being at ASU when classes are closed.

“The thing I like most about playing during the winter season is we have a time where we’re not in school, so I’m able to focus everything I have on my sport,” said Arnecia Hawkins, a senior guard on the women’s basketball team.

The focus appears to be paying off. The team is ranked No. 21 in the nation with a 5-3 record. The winter break also allows the teammates to bond even further. 

“It’s really nice to be around people that you’re with all the time,” Hawkins said. “My teammates are my sisters. It’s nice to be around them for the holidays.”

The team’s real families come out to see them over the break as well. “Our families love being involved in everything we do,” Hawkins said. “They come out to see us when we can’t make it home.”

Hawkins says that winter break doesn’t interfere much with basketball’s practice schedule.

“We plan on being around, so there’s not really conflict because we understand what’s going to happen.”

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