COLUMBIA — The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA, for short) prides itself on developing student-athletes who are dedicated to their sport, but put school first. That’s why it’s student-athlete, not the other way around.
The balancing act between athletics and academics is a difficult one, But it’s this week – finals week – that athletes dread more than any other.
For the Missouri women’s basketball team, the week started with fresh memories of a blown 18-point lead (and eventual overtime loss) in Saturday’s Tiger Tournament championship and tired legs from back-to-back games. But head coach Cindy Stein doesn’t think the loss will have a lingering effect on the squad.
“We’re trying to take the positive approach obviously,” she said. “I got more highlight clips off of that last game against Stephen F. Austin, in a loss, then I get out of most wins. We did a lot of things right – the deflections, the hands on loose balls, the passing was really good.”
Freshman Jasmyn Otote shrugged off the loss, no matter how difficult it really was, by focusing on next week and the team’s intrastate matchup with UMKC this Saturday.
“We just have to bounce back as a team,” she said. “We can’t go into it thinking that we came off a loss, but that we have to get this next win. You can’t focus on the past losses.”
Stein echoed those statements, saying that the Tigers simply weren’t used to playing in close games. It will come with time, however, and enough good things happened throughout the weekend for the team to shake off the loss.
“We have to build off all the good things,” she said. “We obviously talked about the execution towards the end. I think they got really nervous, really tight. We have to work on our confidence and the little things and go from there.”
The next step is trying to keep focus on the court with a young team and the distractions of final exams. Some players are already done with finals, like sophomore Jessra Johnson. Some caught a break, and have plenty of time between tests, like freshman RaeShara Brown.
“I had two tests today (Tuesday) and I have one Friday,” Brown said. “So my study time is broken down real well. Finals aren’t really a stress factor for me.”
Others, like sophomore Amanda Hanneman, can’t seem to find any free time outside of practice and studying.
“We had study hall from 8 until 10 a.m. and practice from 12 to 3,” she said after practice. “Now, I’m heading to the facility to study. So when you’re not at practice, you have to motivate yourself to study.”
Stein, in her 13th year coaching at the collegiate level, is more than used to December’s wacky schedule. Routines are different, players are off kilter, and the staff needs to mix things up accordingly.
“Usually, we try to do things where there isn’t much thinking early,” she said. “We’ll put some things in towards the end of finals, but right now we’re just trying to fine tune some things we’re doing to make sure they’re sharp. We try not to make it physical.
“They’re tired, they’re drained. Their sleeping habits are different, their eating habits are different. They get a little cranky. We’ll probably spend a lot of time watching film this week. I’ll keep practices short and sweet.”
Then again, the prospect of a month without class after finals is a driving force of morale for any college student, especially athletes. For Otote, the proud owner of an easy exam schedule and a well-deserved winter break from class, the next few weeks aren’t about stress at all.
“I’m gonna love it. I’m not really a school person, so just being out of school and being able to just play ball is just a dream come true,” she said. “It’s perfect.”