Lady Eagles will get some holiday cheer in Bahamas

Winthrop's Jennifer Walker, left, defends during practice Wednesday in Winthrop Coliseum.
Winthrop's Jennifer Walker, left, defends during practice Wednesday in Winthrop Coliseum.

The Winthrop women's basketball team hasn't played a game in more than a week but they have stayed busy with practices, studying and taking exams.

It isn't the best time of year to be a college basketball player. They don't get the long Christmas break that other college athletes enjoy.

Coach Bud Childers will give his team three days off for Christmas before practice resumes at the Winthrop Coliseum on Dec. 26.

But before you go comparing the coach to Ebenezer Scrooge, you should note that he and the team will spend five days this week in the Bahamas, where they will participate in the Sunsplash Shootout tournament.

The players will get finals over and done with today. They leave early Wednesday morning for the powdery white-sand beaches and turquoise tropical waters of the Bahamas.

Winthrop will play two games in the tourney. They take the court against Georgia Tech at 6 p.m. Thursday, then play again Saturday (at noon or 2 p.m.) against Memphis or Texas-Arlington.

The tournament will be the third of the year for the Lady Eagles. They started the season hosting the Winthrop/Hilton Garden Inn Classic and also took part in the Xavier Thanksgiving Tournament in Cincinnati.

Like the previous two tourneys, Winthrop will face good competition in the Bahamas. Georgia Tech, at 8-2, is ranked 25th in the latest Associated Press poll and received votes in the USA Today/ESPN poll. Memphis, a Conference USA member, is 5-5. Texas-Arlington plays in the Southland Conference and has already faced two Top 25 teams this season.

The team will stay at the Sheraton Cable Beach Resort in Nassau. The 700-room resort has six restaurants and three pools. Childers has stayed at the hotel twice already. It comes with his high recommendation.

"It has its own lagoon. It is a nice setting," he said.

Childers said the team is excited about the trip but hasn't had a lot of time to think about it between practicing and preparing for exams. However, the last 20 minutes of practice Sunday was spent talking about what to pack.

"I let the assistant coaches (Jodi Davis, Laquanda Dawkins and Chris Vozab) handle that," Childers said.

Winthrop is one of seven Division I teams invited to the tournament. Mercer, Florida Atlantic and East Carolina will play in a Round Robin Field. Eight Division II schools will play in two other tournaments as well.

Senior power forward Ashley Fann said the trip is just another great experience afforded her by playing basketball.

"Basketball has given me such an opportunity in life -- once-in-a-lifetime chances. This is definitely one of those. It is going to be a good vacation as well a chance to leave a mark on this program," she said.

The team is planning to snorkel, visit Paradise Island, do some duty-free shopping and just kick back to spend some time on the beach.

Most of the plans are scheduled after the two games are played.

"We are all excited to prove ourselves a little bit," senior center Ashley Haugtvedt said. "I think that is where the majority of our focus is right now. After we get the job done we can look forward to the fun we are allowed to have and the warm weather."

The forecast through Saturday calls for highs in the upper 70s under sunny skies with nighttime lows in the lower 70s.

Childers sees the trip as one that will prepare his team for the Big South Conference schedule beginning in January and also one that will be a learning experience for his players.

"Going to a tournament in a location like this isn't only about basketball, but the cultural aspects as well," Childers said. "We want our kids to experience and taste the local culture as much as possible. We've structured the return so that we get to take a nice full day on Sunday. We don't leave until late afternoon, so we can kick back and relax in Nassau.

"Hopefully, when it is all said and done, it will be a great week for a lot of different reasons."