Whitman women debut in Div. III Final Four

March 20, 2014 

Reaching the Final Four in a sport is hard enough. Doing so while balancing heavy academic loads at one of the most elite schools on the West coast is downright ridiculous.

But for the Whitman College women’s basketball team that is exactly what they have accomplished this season.

The Missionaries (30-1) face Wisconsin-Whitewater at 5 p.m. today in Stevens Point, Wis., in the NCAA Division III national tournament semifinals.

“It is definitely challenging,” said Hailey Maeda, a redshirt sophomore. “You have to do time management. A lot of times it is studying over hanging out with your friends.”

Maeda is a biophysics, biochemistry and molecular biology major. She hopes to go into a career of biomedical engineering, building prosthetic arms and pacemakers and other instruments of the sort.

While being a student is not only true at Division III schools, it is a bit more difficult, as there are no athletic scholarships at this level. Relying on academic scholarships places an even larger emphasis on the student part of student-athlete.

“Some days it is harder than others,” said freshman Chelsi Brewer, who is undecided on a major. “If you have a big test coming up, you have less time to study than other students because you play a sport.

“When I’m not practicing, I’m studying because it is pretty hard.”

Whitman is known for its science degrees and most of the team falls on the same side of the coin as Maeda, while three of the players’ majors are in the social sciences.

Star center Sarah Anderegg is one of those. She is majoring in sociology with a minor in Spanish. She spent her week getting ready for the Final Four practicing basketball, and working on her thesis.

“I find it a lot easier to balance school and athletics when I’m in season,” the senior from Redmond said. “I have that structure. I know I have three hours at practice, and I have this two-hour chunk of time that I need to dedicate to my school.

“I don’t have a bunch of free time twiddling my thumbs and having random things to do. I really don’t like free time. It makes me confused and awkward,” she added with a laugh.

The players also travel for games a lot, which takes them away from classes. Though Whitman’s professors have been supportive of the athletes.

“Most of my professors go to my games,” Anderegg said. “I’ve gotten emails from current profs or ones I’ve had in the past wishing me luck. I think Whitman does a great job at the intersection of academics and athletics.”

It helps that the Northwest Conference plays its games on Fridays and Saturdays, rather than during the week like some conferences. It keeps the athletes in class a bit more.

“Every professor I’ve talked to is very supportive of my playing basketball,” Maeda said. “They really try to work with me to get my tests done, to keep up with my studies. They keep up with the sport and they watch the games and talk to us about it after games.”

The team features many different majors, including math, politics, sociology, geology, physics and Maeda’s biophysics, biochemistry and molecular biology.

And despite the Missionaries phenomenal season, the players have actually been on campus more than most of the other general students.

“We haven’t had a Thanksgiving Break, Winter Break or Spring Break,” Anderegg said. “Not that we are complaining. My whole house is Spring Breaking in Palm Springs. I’m getting updates on the warm weather while I’m in Walla Walla.”

Of course, none of the players would trade their dream season for a trip to California.

“It is extremely satisfying,” Madea said of the season. “Not many people can say they made the Final Four. It is such an honor to be able to say that: With my best friends, my family, I’ve made it to the Final Four. It is a great feeling.”

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