Smells like team spirit

By Debra Kamin

Photography by Dan Dry

Before a game at No. 1–ranked Roch­ester University in January, women’s basketball player Bryanne Halfhill, ’12, fainted in her hotel room from the effects of the flu. She fractured her nose, broke a tooth, and was put on an IV. She still begged to play.

“I was honestly angry when the ambulance people came,” Halfhill says. “I just wanted to play that night.”

Coach Aaron Roussell refused, but the following week, one day after undergoing a root canal, Halfhill led the team to a 63–50 win over nationally ranked Brandeis University.

Photo:-The close-knit University of Chicago women’s basketball team huddles during a February 8 home game against New York University.

Although she’s just a first-year player, Halfhill embodies the team’s intense dedication to the game. “This is not just a show-up-and-have-fun sort of thing—they’re very competitive,” Roussell says. “But at this level, when you’re not necessarily going to get anything for playing, you’re not getting a scholarship, it has to be fun.”

Team members take that part of the game seriously too. Their mantra is “Nobody has more fun,” a slogan emblazoned on team T-shirts. Many teammates room together, and when they’re not practicing 15 hours a week, traditions include team dinners where the upperclassmen cook for the first-years, beach-themed game nights, and raffles at halftime.

Last year the team won the University Athletic Association (UAA) championship and reached the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Division III tournament. The Maroons finished the 2008–09 regular season with a 17–8 overall record, including an 8–6 mark in the UAA.

Molly Hackney, ’10, a six-foot-tall forward from East Lansing, Michigan, thrives on the combination of competitiveness and camaraderie that defines the team. As a freshman in the 2006–07 season, Hackney was named UAA Rookie of the Year, validating the place she envisioned for herself on the team.

“I wanted to make an impact on a program. I didn’t want to come in and just sit on the bench,” Hackney says. At Chicago, “I saw the potential to lead and contribute.”

Last year she was a first-team All-UAA player, and she led this year’s team in rebounding, averaging 6.1 per game.

Yet instead of focusing on her individual success, she cites the team’s togetherness as a source of her achievements.

“It’s like a little family away from home,” she says. “You see these girls every day; you’re in situations where you’re physically exhausted; you travel with them; you have meals with them. It’s a support group.”

Halfhill was the team’s top scorer, averaging 11.6 points per game. The Canfield, Ohio, native scored a game-high 22 points in a February 13 contest at Case Western University, with her family in the stands.

When she arrived on campus this past fall, the team members were “like immediate friends,” Halfhill says. “U of C is different than other schools because it’s a very smart, very academic school. But it’s a great atmosphere, and being on a team makes it all a lot easier.”

As a testament to the team’s unity, the Maroons won that game at top-ranked Rochester, 71–51, even without Halfhill.

“It was a huge win for us because not only did we beat them, but we beat them by 20 on their home court,” she says. “It really brought our team together.”

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