Winter break takes on a different tone — and length — for student athletes.
While most of their classmates packed up their belongings for a three-week stint away from campus, the North Carolina women’s basketball team stayed put for all but a few days around Christmas.
“It’s really, really boring,” senior forward Krista Gross said. “We get out of practice and it’s like, ‘All right, now what do we do?’ We go to the movies, we go to the mall. We go to the movies, we go to the mall. That’s it.”
Boredom aside, the break seemed to do UNC some favors. The Tar Heels (15-1, 3-0) won all six games they played between the end of exams and the first day of the spring semester.
That streak, which included a 60-57 victory against then-No. 8 Maryland, bumped the Tar Heels up to No. 11 in the national rankings. UNC began the break ranked 19th and started the season outside the Top 25.
“We’re able to focus more just on basketball when we have no distractions,” senior point guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt said. “At times, when you walk outside and there’s nobody outside, or there’s nobody in the dorm with us, it’s kind of weird, but it just gives us time to focus more on basketball and be with each other more.”
Gross said further team bonding could have helped UNC in its closer games, adding that the break was a welcome relief from the stress college life places on student athletes.
“You get more time to recover,” she said. “You’re not as busy, so you get more time to sleep and eat and that kind of stuff. When class is in, you might not get a chance to eat because you have class, then treatment, then practice.”
The Tar Heels began their break with two wins in South Carolina against Coastal Carolina and East Carolina. The team spent Christmas at home but returned to Chapel Hill to defeat East Tennessee State on Dec. 28.
Then conference play began. UNC defeated Clemson, Maryland and Virginia Tech in an eight-day stretch by a combined total of 13 points.
“We’ve pulled out some big wins, had to come from behind in close situations,” coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “This team’s pretty tough.”
Hatchell and Gross both said there were specific things left for UNC to improve upon — foul shooting, rebounding and communication, just to name a few. Those deficiencies might be immediately frustrating, but UNC’s ability to succeed despite them thus far hints at untold potential.
“It’s crazy that we’re ranked 11th, because we watch film and we see that we have so much that we need to improve on,” Gross said. “The fact that we’re doing so well and we have so much room for improvement is a really good feeling.”
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