Notre Dame men's basketball may have lost two all-time great players from last year's ACC Championship squad but, they've added four new names to the roster, each determined to make their own impact on the program.
Recently, I sat down with the freshmen and got to know more about the new kids on the court:
The Notre Dame legend, former WNBA player, and Olympic gold medalist testified before Congress on Tuesday morning to advocate against cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In her testimony, Riley recounts her family's hardships during her childhood and how they often relied on food stamps.
When Notre Dame's Director of Sports Science Matt Howley first started working with the men's soccer team over three years ago, head coach Bobby Clark gave him the reigns to revise their fitness training program.
A significant part of Howley's revision was the introduction of a new athlete monitoring technology called Catapult.
The GPS device is fairly small, no bigger than a bar of soap, and it fits snugly into a pocket that sits between the shoulder blades on compression shirts worn beneath the players' jerseys. Using satellite technology, the device measures things like how far or fast a player runs, how many times they sprint in a game, and various body movements, to name a few.
The Catapult device
The measurement Howley looks at most, though, is 'player load', a number that, simply put, encompasses all of an athlete's movements to represent the total output of an athlete. "[Player load] takes into account what speed you're running at, how many accelerations you're doing, how many decelerations you're doing, how many times you change direction (front and back, side to side, up and down), all that kind of stuff," said Howley.
The soccer team wears these devices in all of their games and practices. On the surface, game data collected by the system provides some fascinating numbers.
The highest speed recorded by a player in a game, for example, is 33.4 kilometers per hour (about 20.8 miles per hour) by sophomore forward Jon Gallagher. Data from the devices has also shown that the players run, on average, about 6.8 miles in a game.
While these numbers alone are intriguing, the technology accomplishes so much more than just measuring who ran the fastest or the furthest in a game. The Catapult system is an invention that has truly transformed the fitness program of the men's soccer team, which is exactly what Coach Clark asked Howley to do.
For Howley and the soccer team, gathering data from games is essential in the larger goal of helping athletes perform at their highest level while also staying away from injury.
Once game data from the devices is collected and analyzed, the performance requirements for a typical soccer game can be determined. Then, Matt and the coaches can use that information to efficiently map out their practices and training for a given week.
"When we're planning practice, we look at the data so we can know what's easy and what's hard," said Howley. "The biggest thing is, you can train however you want to train but you need to understand the demands of your game to actually be on a program. By monitoring it and understanding the load you did in a game you can then adjust your training load - do more, do less. By having everything charted, then we can be proactive. We know if we do X drill, we're going to accumulate on average X kind of effort. We will then know what drills to do [in practice]."
Howley monitors the GPS data live during a recent practice. The system updates every two seconds. Howley keeps track of player loads for each block or drill of practice as well as the accumulated player load over the entire session for each player.
Not only does the data, and especially player load measurements, collected from the devices help the coaches decide which sessions and drills in practice will help players achieve optimum performance in game scenarios, but it also helps the coaching staff monitor fatigue and, in result, decrease the likelihood of injury in their players.
When it comes to fatigue and injury, Howley says, the high intensity movements, such as sprinting, are the ones he monitors most closely.
"We know that those higher intensity movements are the ones that can potentially be the most harming but, they're essentially instances that can win us games," said Howley. "So, if we can have them better maintained and healthier at that point, we can then ensure we're able to perform on game day."
Noticing fatigue represented in the data is one thing. But, making conscious decisions in response is more challenging.
"The hardest thing to figure out is what to do with the information and how to convey that to a coach," said Howley. "I like to think we're now in a position where we're able to use it week to week and actually make some informed decisions."
Those informed decisions could be changing the intensity of a practice or just giving the players a day off altogether.
When I spoke to Howley last Wednesday, the team was coming off a six day stretch where they played in two double overtime games and one single overtime game. Based on the Catapult data and more subjective measures, such as wellness questionnaires given to the players, a decision was made to give those who played the most minutes an extra day off.
These decisions, though, are not made my Howley alone. The entire coaching staff gets a chance to analyze and apply the Catapult information that is collected.
Howley also sends an individualized report to the players after every game so that they can see what kind of data is being recorded and how they are performing. "The coaches get a report every day," said Howley. "We give the coaches a little more information [than the players], though that doesn't mean that they'll necessarily understand it any more. We just give [the players] game data and some basic running information."
So, what numbers do the players focus on the most?
"For them, it's all about top speed," said Howley. "It's never 'how much distance did I run?' It's usually 'how fast did I go?' It's a competition between the guys."
Once they get past the speed element, though, Howley says the devices are helping the players better understand and appreciate the training process.
"The guys, in some sense, are really trusting," said Howley. "They know that we know how we're managing them and that there's a reason for everything. It's not like we just come out here and train. There's a rationale behind what we do and a reason that the day before a game looks the way it does and why they get days off when they do. It's all planned out."
Captain Max Lachowecki is in his fifth year on the team and has been here throughout the entire process of incorporating the Catapult system. Lachowecki acknowledges the impact of the system on the team's fitness regimen. "[Matt] completely changed the culture around our fitness program and the way we do things," said Lachowecki.
And while Max said it's "cool" to see the results from the game in terms of the effort he's putting out, he understands that there's a deeper effect as well.
"It's a confidence boost for us going into each game knowing that we are the fittest team in the country," said Lachowecki. "There's no reason that a team should outwork us. It's all mental at that point."
So far, the revitalized fitness program has had plenty of chances to prove it's worth. The men's team has played in seven overtime or double overtime games this season. Their record in these games is two wins, zero losses, and five ties. Being able to stay in the game is, in large part, due to the fitness of the team, something Howley credits to more than just the Catapult system.
"If we hadn't gone to the structure, the program, the philosophy we use, we wouldn't be at this level," said Howley. "That all stems from the underlying of the coaching and those kinds of things that we instilled three years ago. But [Catapult] gives us the ability to provide the coaches and the guys with more information."
While Howley works closely with the men's soccer squad, they aren't the only team using this technology. The women's soccer team has been using Catapult for four years and men's and women's lacrosse as well as women's basketball have been using it for two years. The hockey, football, and volleyball teams have all done trials with the system and, according to Howley, will likely adopt it completely in the near future if funding is available.
Outside of Notre Dame, the system is even more popular. It is being used on a regular basis by 15 NFL teams, 11 NBA teams, 2 NHL teams, 35 schools in the NCAA, and countless professional rugby and soccer teams internationally.
If you ask Bobby Clark about the fitness of his team, he'll give almost all of the credit to Matt Howley and his implementation of the Catapult system. How does Howley feel about that?
"[Catapult] definitely helps," said Howley. "I wouldn't say it's the ultimate reason, but without it we wouldn't be able to make some of the decisions we've been able to make."
For the women's basketball team, the core of this preseason storyline is the same as always: a national championship is the ultimate goal.
Two veteran players leading the way towards that goal this season are Madison Cable, a graduate student, and Hannah Huffman, a senior finance major.
Cable and Huffman are not only two of the more experienced players on this basketball team but also two of the more interesting personalities as well (just check out this picture of the two wearing t-shirts with pictures of their pets on them.)
The two leaders are also no stranger to the preparation and hard work it takes to make it to a national championship, playing in the title game each of the past two years. In their time at Notre Dame, that preparation has always included summer school to help stay on track with classes during the season and be able to train and workout alongside their teammates.
This summer, however, was different for Cable and Huffman as they chose not to attend summer school but to return to their home states for a summer internship. While the internship experience is pretty standard for Notre Dame students, it is not as common for those on the basketball team.
Maddie Cable, a Pennsylvania native, took advantage of the opportunity to return home and work in the Pittsburgh Penguins front office. "It was a cool time to be there because the team was for sale this summer," said Cable. "I saw the logistics of what went into that and the preparation it takes for somebody to buy a team."
Also, being there in the summer meant Cable was able to experience the heart of the free agency period. "I was there on a big day when we got one of the best guys on the team, Phil Kessel," said Cable. "So, everyone was really excited that day."
For Cable, someone who has been an athlete for the majority of her life, getting a glimpse of the alternate, business side of a sports team was an opportunity she couldn't pass up. "It was just cool to be around and to see the logistics of a sports organization on the other side of not being a player," said Cable.
Leaving the world of sports, Hannah Huffman put her business major to work while employed within technology consulting at Deloitte back home in her native San Francisco. "I was put on the Hewlett-Packard project over the summer," said Huffman. "[HP] is currently splitting into two Fortune 500 companies, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and HP Inc. So, deloitte was asked to go to HP and help separate the two companies and set up their IT infrastructure. The HP project was Deloitte's biggest project so I was actually really fortunate as an intern to be assigned to that project."
While at Deloitte, Hannah was also really fortunate to be able to meet the organization's CEO Cathy Engelbert, the first U.S. female CEO of a Big Four firm and a graduate of Lehigh University. Another cool fact? Engelbert played basketball under Coach McGraw while she was at Lehigh.
"We had a great conversation about Coach McGraw and her time at Lehigh and her love for sports - she's an absolute huge basketball fanatic," said Huffman. "As an intern, to be able to say I had a conversation with a CEO of the whole organization was just a huge highlight of the summer."
In addition to meeting the CEO, Huffman was also offered to return to the organization full-time once she graduates this coming May.
While going away for the summer is something that is not necessarily the norm for basketball players, that doesn't mean it's frowned upon, especially not for older players who have become accustomed to the routine of the program.
In fact, getting Coach McGraw's 'OK' to leave for the summer was not too challenging of a task.
"I think she definitely supports us in internships and she wants us to go out and get experience and make networks and connections," said Cable.
And for Huffman specifically, the opportunity to leave for an internship during the summer before her senior year was a large part of her decision to play at Notre Dame.
"When I was being recruited here that was one of the first questions I asked," said Huffman. "Especially in the business world, it's really crucial to have that work experience. [Coach McGraw] really wants us to not only be great basketball players but have a great professional life. Going away from the team for 3 months made it easier with her support behind us."
The transition back so far this fall has been, as you might expect, fairly easy for these veteran players who have been here before.
"We have such an intense schedule when we're here, which is good because it keeps us focused and everything," said Cable. "When we go home, we're on our own time. But, once we get here, it's not that hard. You just jump right back into it and it's nice to be around our teammates again."
For Huffman, a new experience in the workforce, a job offer, and a stronger appreciation for Notre Dame were all gained when she decided to step away from campus for the summer.
"[It was] the longest I've been away from Notre Dame and it kind of gave me a chance to really appreciate how much I love going here," said Huffman. "When you go and do things for the last time you appreciate them in a whole different light."
For now, it's back to the grind of balancing schoolwork and basketball and, as always, focusing on winning a national championship.
The game of softball is pretty straightforward, right? Someone throws a ball at you, you maybe hit it it (probably not if you're me), and then you run until you have to stop, unless someone stops you first.
Most of us, I'm assuming, know how to play. But, just because you know that much does not mean you really know the game, which is something I quickly found out this past Monday.
I'm not talking about technique or batting form or defensive strategy or anything. I openly admit I am not fluent in these things but that doesn't mean I can't watch the game without understanding it. I'm talking about really knowing the game of softball.
Bring a Friend to Practice Day is a tradition that the Notre Dame softball team started three years ago to share their sport with their friends. (Friends = roommates, baseball coaches, the leprechaun, David Robinson, etc.)
I was lucky enough to attend this year even though I technically don't have any friends on the team but, being the @NDSportsBlogger, I get these kinds of perks.
I wasn't shocked to find out that I sort of sucked at hitting the ball and the accuracy of my throws was... Inconsistent at best. After all, I've lived with myself for 22 years and my career on the diamond ended with T-ball when I was 5.
But, if the goal of Bring a Friend to Practice Day was to show us outsiders what the team goes through in this sport, that was accomplished.
As I swung and missed on yet another ball flying (not very fast) at me from the pitching machine, I thought to myself and proceeded to say out loud, "This really sucks."
Not as in, 'this game sucks' or 'this is the worst time of my life' because I really was having a lot of fun. It was more like, 'this is really frustrating that I can't hit the ball and I have to sit here swinging at it over and over again.' Needless to say, my confidence, which was already low to begin with, was being crushed further and further down with every swing and a miss.
That's when one of the players responded, "Yeah, it's definitely a game of failure."
A game of failure. I had never heard that before but it was perfect. In softball, the average college player literally fails about six or seven out of 10 times at bat - and that's considered good! Think about it, you step up to the plate, either strike out completely or hit the ball but fail to get on base. Sometimes you do get on base or, in the very unlikely case, hit a homerun but, more often than not, you just fail.
Failure exists in all sports but not to the extent that it does in softball and baseball. Decent hockey goalies make more saves in a game than goals they allow, a good quarterback completes his passes at least 6 or 7 times out of ten, and while basketball field goal percentages fall more in the 40-60% range, at least you have a lot of other opportunities to create successes in things like free throws and assists. In softball and baseball, you can be an extremely good player yet still fail overall more times than you succeed.
I've never considered myself a softball or baseball fan. Sure, I'm American. And I like sports. So, if someone offers me tickets to a game, I will go without hesitation. The truth is, though, I've always found it more boring to watch than other sports. Did I maybe not appreciate it that much? Sure. Until now.
The most obvious response to committing yourself to playing a game of failure is committing yourself to positivity.
It is suddenly clear to me why there's constant [positive] yelling coming from the dugouts at softball games - there's literally no other answer. You have to stay positive and uplifting because the game can be so defeating.
(So, wait. First you're telling me I have to put myself in situations where I'm going to fail the majority of the time and now you're saying I have to remain positive through it all? Yup. That's softball.)
Softball, and baseball alike, is the perfect metaphor for life.
To achieve success (hits, runs scored), we inevitably will face a large amount of failures (strike outs) along the way. Ultimately, then, it becomes entirely about how we respond to those failures. Letting them get us down will only keep us further away from possible successes. And it is really hard to want to keep swinging at that ball when you keep missing.
I know that I'm not some brilliant philosopher who has just uncovered a brand new concept. We've all heard the quote, "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it." This idea has been around forever.
But, the point is, I never really saw it at the core of softball until now. Softball is such a strong representation of the above phrase yet I never really looked at as more than just a game where people swing at a ball and miss most of the time.
I spoke with Senior Megan Sorlie and Coach Deanna Gumpf after practice and they both said that they started Bring a Friend to Practice Day to show their friends what they go through on a daily basis. I'm sure they mostly meant in terms of drills and camaraderie but, I came away with a whole new mindset about the game.
Now I'll admit, it's not surprising that this happened because I'm always the one looking for a deeper meaning behind sports. But, this one was too applicable to pass up.
So, what did I learn at Bring a Friend to Practice Day? Softball players are some of the most unbelievably positive and mentally strong athletes out there and I should probably get some actual friends on the team because they're a pretty fun group of girls to hang out with.
Sidenote: One of the girls brought David Robinson as her friend. So, if nothing else, it's impossible not to stay positive and have fun when you're watching a 7'1 guy round the bases.
For the freshmen on the Notre Dame hockey team who just played their first game this past weekend on the ice of the Lefty Smith Rink at Compton Family Ice Arena, they've got four long seasons awaiting them. For the seniors, this is it: their last chance at an NCAA title. This year, their last, is also a year for the seniors to step up into leadership roles and show the freshmen the difference three years can make.
Missing out on the NCAA tournament last season, held at Notre Dame, stung. Some lessons, however, came out of it and this year's captains have set some goals and precedents for the season to get them not only to the tournament, but to the championship game in April. I spoke with four of the five captains--Steven Fogarty and alternate captains Sam Herr, Mario Lucia, and Tommy DiPauli--to talk about the outlook on the upcoming season, how they've changed since 2012, and what they've learned from experience and mistakes that they can teach to the team they're now leading.
"As a team we've come up with some goals for ourselves. I mean, there are performance goals, but there are also team value goals," Fogarty revealed. "Our main goal obviously is to win a national championship, but there are steps you've got to take to get there. I mean something we missed out on last year is the NCAA tournament, and we realized how important the non-conference games are. Those are usually at the beginning of the year, so we really need to have an emphasis on those, but obviously we have some off-ice values that we're going to try to hold everyone accountable to, and if we do that, I think we're going to have success on the ice."
Fogarty is in his second consecutive year as team captain. Herr is also entering his second consecutive year as assistant captain. For Lucia and DiPauli, this will be their first season with letters on their jerseys, but regardless, they have both been leaders for some time. DiPauli says that the lesson he hopes to teach the freshmen is that mistakes happen, but moving on is what matters.
"As for leadership this year, [it's] teaching the younger guys that messing up is not a big deal. I think that's a big part for a lot of freshmen and sophomores, because often times those players can let one little mistake kind of dictate the rest of the practice or the rest of the game. I think it's important that they know that hockey is a game of mistakes, and mistakes are going to happen, but that's why we're a team."
Teaching that lesson and ingraining the moral values and season goals of the team in the freshmen began in June when the team, including the class of 2019, came to campus for summer school. That's also when team chemistry began to build. Fogarty reported that team chemistry is good--"definitely not an issue right now." With chemistry taken care of, focus is the next thing to tackle.
"Everyone acknowledges rankings, but at the end of the day, we try to get the team to focus on the weekends," said Herr. "People are going to hear about [the rankings], but going into a weekend, we try to keep the focus on that. 'We cannot accept anything less than four points' is the goal going into a weekend. We have objectives during a game that we try to achieve, we try to execute, and not think about the bigger picture, but it's hard to say that people don't actually do it. I think it's on us to make sure the team is focused on a weekend instead of the overall picture."
Lucia agreed, and added, "At the end of the day, it matters where you are at the end of the season, not at the beginning."
Only two games into the season, both exhibition games, that ends-based attitude will have to be reinforced every single day. The leadership unit this year, though, has plenty of experience, which leads to maturity.
"The main thing that I've noticed is [that] as we get older is everyone acts more like a professional. People start realizing how to take care of their bodies, and they start realizing the preparation that needs to go into a game and after a game to regroup, and stuff like that." Herr continued, "Each year you learn something different on how to handle that, and that's the biggest difference from freshman year. I'm not saying that freshman year you don't handle yourself well, but you obviously learn as you go."
Consequently, the advice they leave for their underclassmen includes the following:
"Work hard. Do the little things," suggested Lucia, who came out as a force in his first season with the Irish and has continued to be a top-scorer, improving every year.
"This may be cliche, but it's a process. You're not going to go out and execute every single thing that coach wants you to execute your first game. Everyone's going to make mistakes. We've all been there," said Herr, who missed several weeks of action his freshman year to illness. "Guys aren't going to see the ice time that they think they're going to see, but you just can't let that affect you. You have to have a positive attitude and you've got to stick to the process. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, and you've got to work to get there."
There's a long season ahead. That means months of potential mistakes, but also several months for improvement and success. With a strong and experienced leadership core to guide a talented group of underclassmen, the upcoming season hopes to be a great first for some and better last for others.
Happy Throwback Thursday! Now is a great time to look back on some of the amazing team photos that have been taken over the years. Here are my personal favorites.
#4: 1990 Tracksuits
Tracksuits are definitely one of the most memorable parts of the '80s and '90s. I love the triangular pose and the amazing hairstyles in this shot.
#3: 2002 Emerging from the Lakes
For some reason, in 2002 our very own men's soccer team decided to get into the lake with their uniforms on and and take an intimidating photo. Whether or not this shot was meant to be humorous is still up in the air. Also, in case you forgot what emerging means the definition is provided below. The question I have is, what exactly are they emerging from? This one is hilarious! This is also a year that the team made an appearance in the NCAA tournament
#2: 1992 Greased Lightnin': Geared for Success
What's better than a photo of soccer players? A photo of soccer players and racecars. I am not entirely sure how racecars are related to the game of soccer but this honestly is a beautiful picture for so many reasons. And there are more tracksuits, an obvious staple of the '90s.
2 years is not much of a throwback but this picture definitely tops every other one yet to be taken. Just looking at how happy the team is in this picture puts a smile on my face. Hopefully, we can make our way into the NCAA Championship yet again this year! Go Irish!!