The Christmas presents have been unwrapped and the holiday dinners are now leftovers in the freezer. That means one thing -- it's time for the four Berkshire County college basketball teams to get back to work.
The Williams College men are the first team to return to game action. The Ephs are gathering on campus for practice and will head to the Washington & Lee Tournament on Dec. 29, where the Ephs will play Washington College in the first game.
The MCLA women are the other team that will begin playing games before the ball drops in Times Square. The Trailblazers will actually be in Manhattan on Dec. 30, playing NYU.
The Williams women and MCLA men will return to action in 2014.
After dropping their season opener to Southern Vermont, the Ephs have won seven straight games and when into the Christmas break ranked fifth in the latest D3hoops.com national poll.
What was particularly impressive for coach Mike Maker's team is that the Ephs won five of those games without one of their best players. Preseason All-American Mike Mayer sprained an ankle in a win at St. Joseph's (Vt.) on Nov. 20, and has not played -- or dressed -- since. That's 16 point-per-game and 10.3 rebound-per-game averages sitting on the bench.
His place has been filled by junior Ryan Kilcullen. The 6-foot-7 center from Hingham isn't the same player as the 6-9 Mayer, but Kilcullen has demonstrated the ability to knock down the 3-point shot, which forces opponents' centers to come out and play Kilcullen on defense.
Six Ephs, including Mayer, are averaging in double figures. Of the active players, senior Taylor Epley leads the way at 17.4. Freshman forward Duncan Robinson, however, has played well enough to be considered the favorite to win the NESCAC rookie of the year. Robinson is averaging 15.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
The Ephs will see a face familiar to local hoop fans on Sunday as former Mount Greylock athlete and Williams assistant Rob Nugent is the head coach at Washington (Md.) College, the Ephs' first opponent in the tournament.
Nugent, who was an assistant under Harry Sheehy, has led his team to a 2-4 record. Sophomore guard Pat Morgan (11.8 points) is the top scorer.
Coach Pat Manning's Ephs were in a rebuilding mode, having graduated several top seniors, including NESCAC player of the year Claire Baecher.
Well, all the Ephs have done is go 9-0 and climb from the unranked to No. 12 in the latest D3hoops.com poll.
Williams has been successful on defense all year. Only once, in a 78-64 win over Bridgewater State, has an opponent scored more than 60 points. Williams has held its last five opponents to fewer than 50 in a game.
There are no seniors on this roster, but the Ephs are being led by a pair of juniors -- Ellen Cook (13.1 points) and Kellie Macdonald (12.0). Cook runs the point and is averaging 4.5 assists per game and Macdonald is averaging nearly seven rebounds per game.
Williams has had some solid play out of sophomore Jane Thompson, a transfer from Division I Minnesota, along with sophomore centers Katie Litman and Oge Uwanaka.
The Ephs pick up on Jan. 4 with back-to-back home games against RPI and St. Lawrence.
A season that started with optimism that came from a preseason pick to win the MASCAC title, the Trailblazers (2-7) went into the holidays on a six-game losing streak.
Things don't get any easier because they'll open at Franklin & Marshall in that school's holiday tournament on Jan. 2.
Senior forward John Jones might be the best 6-1 forward in the Northeast. He is averaging 18.2 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Coach Jamie Morrison would like to get some 3-point shooting under his tree. The Trailblazers are only shooting 28.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Things don't get any easier for MCLA, as the Trailblazers will play Franklin & Marshall in the first game of the Sponaugle New Year's Tournament in Lancaster, Pa. F&M is coached by Glenn Robinson, who came into the season with 853 wins -- ninth in all levels of college hoops.
The introductions are over, and now it's going to be time for coach Holly McGovern's young team to get rolling.
The Trailblazers (3-6) did close out 2013 with a win over Fisher in what McGovern said might have been their best game.
MCLA was helped by the return of junior Sara Hamilton, who in only three games, is the team's leading rebounder at 5.3 boards per game.
Freshmen Ashley Clawson and Brayleigh Hanlon, both MASCAC rookies of the week, have been solid contributors. Clawson has started in eight of MCLA's nine games and Hanlon has started in seven games. Courtney McLaughlin of Pittsfield has started in five of MCLA's nine games.
Freshman Kayla Hotaling did not play in the first half. She could be a big help inside for MCLA during January and February.
Now, it's off to New York to play undefeated (7-0) but unranked NYU.
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On Twitter: @howardherman