Women's Hoops: Wirth trots around the globe

If Christina Wirth's English 101 professor this fall assigns an essay entitled "How I Spent My Summer Vacation," she won't be at a loss for words. The incoming Vanderbilt freshman, along with eleven other of the top young basketball players in the United States, is a member of the United States junior national team which will compete in the U19 World Championships for Young Women in Tunis, Tunisia, later this month.

Wirth's summer adventures began even before she graduated from high school in the spring.

A few days after classes were over in May, she flew to USA Basketball headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for tryouts for the U19 team.

"I finished my last day of school on the 13th and graduated the 24th," Wirth said after practice earlier this week. "In between we had the trials, so I kind of lost sight of graduation for a while and just tried to do my best at the trials."

Wirth's performance at the trials earned her a spot on the list of 15 finalists for the twelve positions on the team. So after graduation, she traveled to San Diego where the finalists trained and competed against teams from Russia, Australia, and China, in the 2005 International Sports Invitational.

At the end of camp, when the final roster was announced, Wirth's name was called, meaning that an already busy summer would become even busier.

After a break of a couple of weeks, the team regrouped in Colorado Springs on June 28 to begin another round of training. Then they traveled to Washington, D.C., to train at American University July 3-6.

"All my life I've had the thought that the summer after my senior year would be relaxing," said Wirth with a laugh. "But it's definitely been busy. It's been really fun and a great experience so far."

This summer's travels are Wirth's third experience with USA Basketball. In the summer of 2004, she participated in the Youth Development Festival in Colorado Springs.

After the Festival, she earned a position on the junior national team which stormed through the qualifying tournament last summer in Puerto Rico. Seven other members of last year's qualifying team join her on this year's team.

To be eligible for the competition, players must have been born on or after January 1, 1986. Wirth is the second youngest member of the team and is one of the five players who will begin their college careers this fall. The other players completed their freshmen seasons last year.

Although many players on the team were part of the qualifying team last year, this year's team faces a tougher challenge. The purpose of last summer's tournament was to select the best teams from the Americas, so the competition was primarily from Central and South American countries.

This summer, the competition will be the best teams from the Americas, from Europe, from Asia, and from Africa. They're expected to provide a much stiffer challenge than last year's team faced.

On July 6, the team wrapped up training camp in Washington, then made the big jump across the Atlantic. After a stopover in Germany, they continued on to Hungary for more training before the final leg of the trip to Tunisia.

"We know it's going to be really physical when we get to the tournament," Wirth said before the team left Washington. "And people aren't exactly rooting for us to win, so we're keeping in mind that everyone is pretty much against us. But it's kind of exciting to have it that way. I like it that way."

The trip is Wirth's first visit to Europe and to Africa. "I'm just excited," she said. "I love traveling. I really like hearing different languages even though I don't know what they're saying. I think that's really cool and seeing like how people dress, and how they act, and eating different kinds of food."

After Hungary, she'll get her first look at Africa when the team trains in Tunisia from July 12-14. Then, the preliminary round of competition begins on Friday, July 15. The USA is in Pool A with the Congo, Puerto Rico, Russia, Serbia & Montenegro, and South Korea. Pool B includes Australia, Canada, China, Hungary, Spain and Tunisia.

After the round-robin in which each team in the pool plays every other team, the top four finishers in each pool advance to the Medal Quarterfinals on July 22. The Semifinals follow on Saturday, then the Finals on Sunday, July 24.

Then, just a month after the tournament finals, the fall semester begins at Vanderbilt, giving Wirth a few weeks break before coming to Nashville to join her new teammates - and to get started on that essay.

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