Amid the excitement, players struggle to keep up in classes

While in New Orleans for the Final Four, Minnesota women’s basketball players will have to worry about media obligations and team practices – and homework.

Although the Gophers are competing for a national championship, as students they must find time for coursework. The team had two days between its return from the Mideast Regional in Norfolk, Va., and Thursday’s trip to New Orleans.

“It’s kind of tough to keep up with school work. We’ve been gone a lot,” senior guard Lindsay Whalen said. “It seems like I’ve been home for three days in about a month.”

Players bring homework with them on the road, but struggle to find opportunities to study. Most players said they get their work done during plane rides.

“When you’re on the plane and want to take a nap, you’ve got to stick your nose in a book,” senior guard Lori Dimitroff said.

Dimitroff said she plans to write a psychology paper and read for a history of medicine course during the flight to New Orleans.

While on the road, players can write papers using Internet-enabled laptops borrowed from the athletics department.

Senior forward Kadidja Andersson said she planned to write a paper during last night’s flight to New Orleans, and would e-mail the paper to her professor today.

Several players did homework on the flight back from Norfolk after celebrating their Final Four berth, said Carol Gruber, director of academic counseling and student services for the athletics department.

But sophomore Shannon Bolden said it is often difficult to get work done on the plane.

“Sometimes your teammates just want to sit and talk instead of do homework,” Bolden said. “There are a lot of distractions.”

Sophomore guard Shannon Schonrock said she does not study on flights because she gets motion sickness. She said she spent most of the day Wednesday studying because she does not want to fall behind.

University policy requires professors to provide test and make-up opportunities for student-athletes, Gruber said.

“The professors are really good about it,” Bolden said. “If they know we’re going to be gone for a few days, they’ll give us a couple extra days to get an assignment in.”

Several players, including Bolden and Schonrock, will miss exams while in New Orleans, but will take them when they get back. Gruber said another player will have to take a proctored exam during the trip.

Gruber and another academic counselor will accompany the team to New Orleans to help players keep up with their work.

Athletics Director Joel Maturi said all tournament teams struggle to balance academics and athletics.

“It’s a challenge that all teams have in the NCAA Tournament, and one that we’re sensitive to and trying to address,” he said.

Gruber said this team is well-suited to handle that challenge.

“It’s never easy, but the women’s basketball team is a very excellent academic team,” Gruber said.

The team’s cumulative grade point averages for fall 2003 was 3.11, according to athletics department records.

But as Sunday’s game approaches, the emphasis will shift from homework to basketball.

“I’m bringing a little bit of homework with me,” Bolden said, “but obviously what I really want to concentrate on is the game and preparing for that.”

Coach Pam Borton said there will be little time for studying in New Orleans because of highly structured practice and media schedules.

“We’re going to keep the kids very focused on what the goal is ahead of us, which is winning a national championship,” she said.