By Maggie Franke
From Dec. 21 until Jan. 14, most Wheaton College students enjoyed their heavily anticipated winter break. However, the campus was not completely quiet during this time, especially for a number of Wheaton’s athletes. From basketball to wrestling to swimming, the extent of Christmas “break” looked a bit different for these student-athletes.
Senior basketball players Aston Francis and Jennifer Berg both said that they got a week off for Christmas, but they had to be back on campus for training on Dec. 26.
“We had daily practice and games twice a week over break,” Berg said.
The Wheaton Women’s Basketball team traveled to Bluffton, Ohio to compete in the Bluffton University Holiday Tournament where they beat Wilmington College 70-57 and Bluffton University 67-47. Then they had three CCIW matchups in a row against Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU), Carroll University and Millikin University on Jan. 2, 5 and 9. The most important game was against IWU, the Thunder’s closest competitor for the CCIW Champion title, which Wheaton won in a nail-biter with a final score of 56-54.
Berg said that the training and competition over the academic break kept the team in shape and allowed them to have more opportunities to compete. The men’s team had a similar schedule.
They initially faced off against the Illinois Institute of Technology on Dec. 29 and lost 75-72. However, the Thunder successfully rebounded with four straight CCIW wins against Carthage College, Carroll University, Millikin University and Elmhurst College.
“Training over Christmas break allows us to not get too rusty between games,” Francis said. “It’s also is a great opportunity to bond as a team. We get to spend a lot of time together and get to know our teammates better.”
Both Wheaton swim teams had a Christmas training schedule as well. Arriving back on campus on Jan. 7, the swimmers got to celebrate Christmas and New Years at home before a heavy week of training. Senior swimmer Stephen Larsen emphasized the importance of this training week for the swim teams because there is much less time to training between the start of second semester and the CCIW Championship meet in February.
“We had double practices every day we were back,” senior swimmer Daniel Deysher said. “We trained approximately five hours a day Tuesday Jan. 8 through Friday Jan. 11.”
“This year’s break, we had both organized training and competition,” senior swimmer Bethany Doyle said. “We only trained on campus. [In] previous years, however, we have gone to a swimming facility called the LABS, and two years ago, we went on a training trip to California, but we only go on a training trip every three years.
On Saturday, Jan. 12, the team hosted a quad meet against Hope College, Kalamazoo College and Lake Forest College. The Wheaton Men’s Swim team won the meet with 558 points, and the Wheaton Women’s Swim team placed second in the meet 490.5 points.
The Wheaton wrestling team also spent some time on campus training. Since Christmas break splits their season in half, the wrestlers need to do whatever they can to be in their best shape by the time the Pete Wilson Wheaton Invitational rolls around during the last weekend of January.
“We practiced twice a day over break,” Gierke said. “A morning practice of strength and conditioning as well as “bonus” technique work. The afternoon practice is a typical one where we have drilling, technique, and live wrestling, totalling four and a half hours a day over break.”
Jan. 12, the Saturday before school started up again, the Thunder wrestlers travelled to North Manchester, Ind. to compete in the Spartan Mat Class. According to Gierke, both senior Carlos Fuentez and junior Isaac Anderson were tournament champions in their respective weight class, and the team finished second overall out of 22 teams.
Besides just the training, each athlete agreed that the time on campus or off-campus as a group allowed them to spend a lot of exclusive time with each other.
“We watched Netflix together, ate meals together and volunteered at the Carol Stream Community Outreach Center,” Berg said.
Francis said that many members of the Men’s Basketball team also enjoyed movie watching, Fortnite playing and eating Chipotle.
While many of the athletic teams at Wheaton eat most of their meals together and room with each other, the opportunity to spent a week or so with collegiate coaches and teammates really integrates the underclassmen into the team dynamic.
“Younger guys get an extended period of time to get to know the other guys on the team much better,” Gierke said.
There’s also the blessing of being able to focus, 100-percent on training. “The opportunity to train with no classes or other commitments allows for extra energy to be put into each practice,” Deysher said.
“Benefits for training over break include team bonding because we all stay together and are some of the few people back on campus and an opportunity to train very intensely to get into our best shape because we have nothing occupying our time but swimming,” Doyle also said.
Wheaton’s wrestlers, basketball players and swimmers all put in time over the break to become better athletes and invest in their relationships with their teammates and coaches. With winter seasons nearing their close in the next few months, the extra effort the Thunder put in over break might be the difference maker during conference and nationals competitions.