BY MOST measures,
2005--06 was a banner season for Hillary Klimowicz, then a 6'2" freshman
center at St. Joseph's. Thanks in large part to her play--she averaged 8.9
points and 7.3 rebounds and blocked 60 shots--the Hawks went 20--11, earned a
WNIT bid and were recognized as the nation's most improved team. But soon after
she had collected her Atlantic 10 and Big Five rookie of the year trophies,
Klimowicz made what she calls "the hardest decision of my life": She
gave up her $38,000-a-year scholarship, said goodbye to a coach she loved and
transferred to The College of New Jersey, a nonscholarship Division III school
in Ewing, N.J. The issue wasn't playing time, academic struggles (she had a 3.2
GPA) or bad chemistry with teammates. Klimowicz was frustrated by the time
demands of her sport, which, including the team's mandatory study hall for
freshmen, ate up as many as seven hours a day.
were up to 3 1/2 hours; then there was weightlifting, study hall and outside
shooting practice," says Klimowicz. "I had to do extra workouts because
I wasn't as naturally athletic as everyone else. It wasn't mandatory, but it
was expected. I had always been big on extracurriculars but wasn't able to do
them at all. I didn't feel I was getting all I wanted out of my college
The demands made
on St. Joe's basketball players are fairly typical among top Division I women's
programs. Though the women's game isn't driven by the same economic forces that
spur the men's--few programs turn a profit, and none get a cut of TV revenue
for making the NCAA tournament--it has become a supercompetitive, high-stakes
enterprise that increasingly mirrors the men's game in TV exposure, coaches'
escalating salaries, pressure to win and time demands on student-athletes.
the men's lead, everything in women's basketball has increased," says
Division III Colby College coach Lori Gear McBride, a member of North
Carolina's 1994 NCAA title team and Klimowicz's senior-year coach at Scotch
Plains--Fanwood High in New Jersey. "Do I see it as a positive for every
student-athlete? No. I think you have to figure out what you want from your
If it's a free
education and the challenge of D-I competition, be prepared for long hours in
hightops. "Being competitive in women's basketball today requires a huge
commitment," says Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour. "And with the
resources schools are pouring into programs [the average D-I team's budget has
tripled in the last decade], there's no excuse for not winning."
feel the pressure early. "Recruiting is a whole other game now," says
one longtime college assistant. "It's intense, it's personal, and now, with
text- and instant-messaging, it's constant." Colleges are not allowed to
call prospective recruits before their junior year, yet female players (often
wooed through their AAU coaches) have made oral commitments to schools as early
as ninth grade, long before they've made any official visits. Coaches point to
this phenomenon as a reason the women's game is starting to reflect the men's
in the number of players who transfer.
school is such an educational process," says Cal coach Joanne Boyle.
"What's the system like? What's my position? Who am I going to be playing
with? With technology the way it is now, a kid thinks, I've known this coach a
year and a half--that's who I want to play for. But a 15- or 16-year-old
probably isn't mature enough to make that decision."
interdivisional transfer was different from most, and so was her motivation. As
a high school player she had made three official visits and signed with St.
Joe's in her senior year. Thanks to McBride, she had a pretty good idea of the
commitment she would be making at the D-I level. She just didn't know how it
would feel. "As soon as [scholarship] money gets involved, your sport does
become a job," she says. "You have to perform, and if you don't, there
are consequences, like sitting on the bench. That pressure was there all the
Not that Division
III is pressure-free. "We still have goals and struggles at this
level," says Klimowicz, who has taken out loans to help pay TCNJ's
$20,000-a-year total tab, "but it's not as demanding. I have a much better
balance in my life now." At TCNJ she spends about three hours a day on
basketball-related activities (she averaged a team-high 12.4 points and 7.4
rebounds this season for the 13--14 Lions and was named first-team All--New
Jersey Athletic Conference) and is minoring in sociology and women and gender
studies in addition to her psychology major. She has plans to join the school
band--she has played trombone since fourth grade--and is now rushing a coed
service fraternity. "I have a lot of respect for the people who play
Division I sports," she says, "because it takes a lot out of you.
People who can stick it out for four years are very strong."