The Washington Area Military Athletics Conference 2011-12 basketball season is underway and Belvoir athletes are staying busy at Graves fitness center, preparing for some tough upcoming opponents.

The Fort Belvoir men's and women's teams will compete against the best players from several area military installations on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the winter. The WAMAC season will conclude with the Capital Classic tournament at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Feb. 17-20.

According to Fort Belvoir men's Eagles head coach Herb Marshall, the teams have been practicing for the 2011-12 season since the first week of October.

The Eagles and the Lady Eagles participated in the annual Operation Santa tournament -- a charity event that raises funds and toys for needy families in the Washington metro area -- Dec. 2-4 to start the official season of play, Marshall said.

The women's team went undefeated in the playoff rounds and won the championship over Walter Reed National Military Medical Center-Bethesda 72-57, he added.

Fort Belvoir has been a consistent contender in the WAMAC, finishing several seasons with playoff slots and title wins.

"The men's team won the conference championship in 2001, 2002 and 2003," Marshall said. "And the women's team won it last year."

Marshall, who began working as a head coach at Fort Myer 13 years ago and is currently in his third season at Fort Belvoir, attributes the teams' successes to preparation and staying fit.

"Practices are twice a week and (we focus on) conditioning, timing and learning the game plan," he said. "Since we can only get the Soldier athletes in the gym twice a week, our practices have to consist of physical conditioning and working on the game."

Marshall also said that putting together a cohesive basketball team that is prepared to perform consistently throughout a season can often be a challenge.

"(We have to) understand that our mission is first getting a full team to practice on a consistent basis so that we can work on the game plan and correct some of the deficiencies from previous games," he said. "Practice also builds the synergy needed for military basketball at this level. You have to be prepared; it's more than just a game at this level."

Of all the teams participating in the league, one installation promises to be a particular challenge this season.

"Currently, Quantico Marine Corps Base is the reigning WAMAC champs, so they are the mark," Marshall said. "However, all the teams will be competitive this year. Every weekend is different so you have to be ready for anything."

Marshall pointed out that he and his players take the WAMAC contests seriously as the league represents a pinnacle in military athletic achievement.

"The Fort Myer Capital Classic championship is the largest basketball tournament in the continental United States," he said.

In addition to basketball, Fort Belvoir athletes participate in WAMAC softball, football, golf, tennis and volleyball. Marshall expressed that there is always a need for players in each of the sports.

"We try to carry at least 18 players on the roster so that we are able to dress a full team and conduct full organized practices," he said. "Interested players are always welcome to come out."