WALLA WALLA - As far as Jeff Reinland and Bobbi Hazeltine are concerned, the Christmas season's basketball interlude couldn't have come at a better time.
For Reinland, Walla Walla Community College's men's coach, the necessity of the break is perhaps the product of misguided scheduling. For Hazeltine, the Warriors women's coach, it's serendipity, plain and simple.
Both teams have enjoyed prosperity in 2011. The men's team heads into the holidays with a 7-3 record and the WWCC women are 8-3 at the break.
But Reinland believes his team has hit a wall, fatigued by 42 practices in as many days, not counting the 10 game dates. And that certainly seemed to be in evidence last Sunday in Seattle when the Warriors were pummeled by Bellevue 88-50 in the championship game of a three-day NWAACC crossover tournament.
"We didn't have any energy left. We were exhausted," Reinland said after that loss.
"We've been working really hard because of all of these tournaments we're in," he added. "There was no break at Thanksgiving. We've had 42 practices, plus 10 games, straight through. Now the kids have a week off, and they really need it."
The Seattle crossover was WWCC's fourth tournament so far this season. The Warriors played three games in as many days at the Skagit Valley Turkey Shoot in Mount Vernon, Wash., to open the season. They also played in Big Bend's Runnin' Vikes two-day tourney in Moses Lake as well as their own two-day Warrior Classic.
And when WWCC resumes play, it will be at the Clackamas Christmas Tournament in Oregon City, Ore., Wednesday through Friday of this coming week.
"That will be our fifth tournament," Reinland said. "I don't think we are going to do our schedule this way again. But unfortunately, it's where most of the NWAACC has gone."
Part of the problem, he said, is that it is difficult to schedule individual games, especially for schools on this side of the state. Other than North Idaho, two-year colleges east of the Cascades are all members of the NWAACC's Eastern Region, teams that prefer to avoid each other until league play begins in January.
"It's hard to get teams from the west side to come over here and play us," Reinland admitted.
And then there's the impact of a reduced 24-game schedule that has been in place for the last four years.
"It used to be 27 games," Reinland said. "But with all the budget problems, they cut us to 24 games."
However, for teams that participate in tournaments and reach the third day (teams that lose their first two games are usually eliminated) the third game, by rule, doesn't count against the 24-game limit. Thus the incentive to schedule tournaments.
"That's the impetus," Reinland said. "But we're not going to do five again. Maybe two."
Hazeltine's women's team hasn't been quite so burdened.
The Warriors opened their season at the three-day Yakima Invitational in November. They also hosted their own two-day Warrior Classic and, like the men's team, participated in the mandatory three-day NWAACC crossover event, theirs wrapping up last weekend at Clark CC in Vancouver, Wash.
But Hazeltine was also fortunate enough to schedule individual games, all of them at home, against Clark, North Idaho and Mount Hood. And the Warriors will also entertain Portland Dec. 30 before opening league play Jan. 7 when Columbia Basin invades the Dietrich Dome.
"I got lucky this year," Hazeltine said. "We were able to schedule a lot of single home games. I think our schedule this year is absolutely ideal because we're not playing in a lot of tournaments.
"I don't mind the tournaments," she added. "But I don't like to travel every weekend, either."
Hazeltine was also able to give her players a week off to spend Thanksgiving at home. And the Warriors, players and coaches alike, are in the midst of an eight-day break for Christmas.
"This is something we do every year," Hazeltine said. "It's a commitment I make to the players and their families when I recruit them.
"We ask a lot of our players, and I think we get more out of them in January and February because of the time off. They need the time off, and so do the coaches."
But Hazeltine is particularly grateful for this year's hiatus.
"Oh, gosh yes, it couldn't come at a better time," the coach said.
That's because Hazeltine's best player, sophomore Leslie Stillar, injured her knee in the second half of last Sunday's 84-66 loss to Clark in the championship game of the Vancouver crossover tourney. Stillar, the team's leading scorer and the No. 1 3-point shooter in the entire NWAACC, was on crutches after the game and left for her home in Spokane accompanied by her parents.
That left Hazeltine, who has experienced more than her share of injury setbacks during her coaching career, thinking major ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) surgery and a lump of coal in her Christmas stocking.
But the coach learned Wednesday morning that Stillar's injury had been diagnosed as a sprain, not a tear, and that the sharpshooter hoped to be back on the court in time to play in the Portland game.
It was welcome news considering Hazeltine had already lost one of this year's projected starters to knee surgery when sophomore Caitlin Duncan, a DeSales High product, blew out her knee during last summer's Peach Basket Classic. Duncan is red-shirting and is expected to be back in uniform next season.
"She hasn't checked out," Hazeltine said of Duncan. "She has been at every single one of our practices, sitting and watching. I feel so badly for her, but she is starting to do some slow jogging and making slow progress."
Three other current Warriors have also had to deal with knee surgery.
Sophomore Alex Pfefferle injured her knee in last year's NWAACC championship game against Yakima. She had surgery in March, rehabbed all spring and summer and returned to the court in mid-November, a full month before her coach expected.
"I don't know any player in my life who has worked as hard as Alex," Hazeltine said. "Every single day this summer she was in the gym and in therapy. I don't think she is still 100 percent, she has lost some speed, but she can still shoot it."
Freshman guard Michelle Seitz blew out her knee twice in high school - her sophomore and junior seasons at Nezperce, Idaho - but recovered in time for her senior year and appears to be back at full strength as a first-year college player.
And freshman Hailey Felgenhauer of Fruitland, Idaho, suffered a similar injury during the district championship game of her senior year. After red-shirting last year, Felgenhauer is also back on the court.
"We've had a lot of knee problems," Hazeltine said. "Especially in the last couple of years. But Never as many as with this one group of girls.
"It's something that seems to be happening around the NWAACC all the time," she added. "We do dynamic stretching exercises that we got from the Whitman College coaches that they believe is very preventative.
"We do that stuff every day and I am not really sure what else to do."