After working since mid-October to get their players prepared physically and mentally, most local college women's basketball coaches soon will be reluctantly bidding farewell to their charges as they take off for the holidays.
Most coaches anticipate a layoff of at least three weeks. While most men's teams play in often-lucrative tournaments and manage both to make money and stay sharp, women's teams frequently can do neither.
"The budget's the problem," says Linda Ziemke, American University coach, whose team stopped playing Dec. 10 and won't resume until Jan. 9. "There just isn't enough money to support us during that period.
"Men's teams get guarantees when they play in tournaments. Women's teams don't, except at the highest level of play, like an Old Dominion. They might get expenses, but our men's team, for instance, can just about pay for its program for the year by appearing in a tournament. There are more and more tournaments available, but it's still not comparable to men's teams."
Notes George Washington Coach Lin Gehlert, "We could keep them in school, but it would cost too much. We'd have to keep the dorms open, and pay for their meals. Most programs don't have that kind of money."
Among area teams, only Virginia, which is playing in the Queens Tournament Dec. 27-29, and the University of the District of Columbia, which travels to the La Salle tournament Dec. 28-30, are in holiday tournaments.
"I don't like to give them that much of a layoff," says UDC Coach Bessie Stockard. "I give my players two days off before Christmas and a few days off afterward, and then we start practicing. It would be like resuming preseason workouts all over again."
"If they come back in shape," Ziemke says, "then you can get them mentally sharp fairly quickly. If they aren't, you've got a lot of work ahead of you. The first month of playing is just about wasted."
To keep her players physically fit during the holidays, Ziemke draws up a detailed conditioning program for each, stressing running and jumping as well as ball-handling and other skills. All are encouraged to play with their old high school teams or to hitch up with teammates who live nearby.
"I write them letters -- motivational things, Christmas cards -- when I'm on the road recruiting," Ziemke says. "I try to keep their minds on basketball."
George Washington (4-0) has gotten off to the best start among local schools, defeating a good UDC team, 88-85, Dec. 2 and winning its own tournament Dec. 5-6 by beating Delaware and Virginia Tech.
Trish Egan, a 6-foot junior forward, is leading GW with a 17.5 scoring average, and Carol Byrd, a graduate of Friendly High School, is second with an 11.0 average. Jennifer Johnson, a 5-11 freshman, had 20 rebounds in the tournament and has emerged as the leading rebounder.
Maryland, ranked 16th nationally before losing, 64-61, to Clemson Saturday, is 3-1, 1-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. A much smaller team than last year's with the transfer of 6-4 Kris Kirchner and the graduation of 6-5 Krystal Kimrey, Maryland is led by junior forward Myra Waters, a preseason honorable mention all-America who is averaging 20 points. Sophomore Lydia McAiley, at 6-1 the Terps' tallest starter, is scoring at a 14-point pace.
Virginia (7-1) also has started well. The Cavs' only defeat was to North Carolina, 55-51. Melissa Mahony, a 5-7 junior from O'Connell, is the third-leading scorer with a 10.8 average. The Cavaliers are hurting on the front line, however, with an injury to 6-1 sophomore Chrissy Reese, two-time Post player of the year in the Washington area while at Holy Cross High School. Reese incurred a stress fracture in her right foot in preseason and has played in only one game.
Virginia Coach Debbie Ryan said she considered red-shirting Reese, but after consulting with doctors over the weekend decided the talented center-forward could be ready by the game with Virginia Tech Jan. 3. "Chrissy is much improved," Ryan said. "She's jogging some and we have her working on a bicycle. We've also fitted her with a special shoe." Reese is being replaced by 6-foot freshman Linda Mitchell, a Parade high school all-America from Jersey City, N.J., who is leading the team in scoring (12.5 points), blocked shots and steals.
UDC (4-1) is getting exceptional performances from 5-9 junior forward Alice Butler (28.6 points, 14.6 rebounds), 5-9 guard Gwen Jones (21.2 points) and 6-3 freshman Chanille Hamilton (10.5 points, 16.6 rebounds). Butler, who tried out for the U.S. Olympic team this year, is a graduate of DuVal High School. Jones is a senior from Ballou.