Oct. 14, 2009
Matt Ludwig runs a system of organized chaos.
The strength and conditioning coach for women's basketball recently had his athletes run through a long list of plyometric drills during a session in the East Gym. They do footwork drills, shuttle drills, sprints and jumps, all designed to build explosive speed. Ludwig barks out orders while demanding a high level of energy and perfect movement. Towards the end, players are gasping for air and clasping their hands on their knees, fatigued to the limit.
But they're not done. The athletes then move over to the sports performance center where core exercises precede a strength training session. Welcome to the preseason for the Huskies.
Ludwig is in charge of ratcheting up the program's fitness levels. In conjunction with head coach Tia Jackson, Ludwig has programmed several strength and conditioning plans that will build strength, agility and endurance for the upcoming season. He also wants players to become more durable and less susceptible to injury.
"The crux of everything we're doing (here in the weight room) needs to be faster, harder, better if we're going to improve," Ludwig said. "That was the No. 1 thing we wanted to address going into this season - be able to be more aggressive with everything that we do."
With better conditioning comes an expanded use of Jackson's system. Players can pressure the ball harder, defend deeper areas of the court and get out and run when needed, and at a higher intensity.
Not to say the previous teams under Jackson were out-of-shape or poorly conditioned. Ludwig said the women's basketball team was one of the hardest working in the weight room he has coached. It's just that strength and conditioning was earmarked this offseason as the team's top priority, and Jackson was prompted to make the change when she noticed her team was getting beaten a lot in transition.
The players have responded well. When the team returns to preseason training, they hold a 1.5 mile run as a test, done at 6:15 a.m. Seventy-five percent of the athletes passed. While Jackson expects 100 percent, she also understands this exceeded all her realistic expectations.
"My first year, 10 percent passed. The following year, maybe 30-35 percent," Jackson said. "We've made tremendous strides with our commitment over the summer. Kids have been coming in with a different mindset about what's necessary. We're not going to get outworked by people."
In order to do so, Ludwig designed a three-part plan. During the summer, players worked less on basketball skills and instead focused on building strength. This was done with multi-joint exercises such as squats and power cleans. Then, as the team has transitioned to preseason, the emphasis has moved to building the explosive movements that mimic what happens on a basketball court. During the season, the athletes will lift to maintain their strength.
In the past, the team headed to the Dempsey Indoor to train on the track. Now the team does much less distance running, and many more short sprints.
"In order to be efficient in basketball, it's not a long-distance marathon," said Ludwig as he monitored forwards Liz Lay and Lydia Young moving through a sequence of exercises. "It's a series of sprints. So how do I build kids to be able to be high-output that can recover very fast with the short break times? That's the spirit of what we do."
Jackson knows if her team is able to outlast their opposition, it will put the Huskies in prime position to win more often than not. It's a mantra that's posted on the wall in the sports performance center.
"There are some who are willing to give up much sooner than others," Jackson said, paraphrasing. "That means they didn't put in the necessary training during the offseason in the weight room. It's our motivation right now."