Nov. 26, 2014
At the 15:32 mark of the second half of Tuesday's college women's basketball game between No. 1 University of Notre Dame and Quinnipiac, Fighting Irish star Jewell Loyd swished a pair of free throws and then sprinted down court and made a sensational leaping steal.
After making the theft, Loyd dished the ball off and ran to the corner at the Irish end. She then flashed across the lane and was knocked to the court. After two more free throws Loyd was off and running again.
At the 14:19 mark, after once again sprinting the length of the court to get back on defense, Loyd soared to swat away a Quinnipiac shot in the corner.
Loyd never looked winded as she wore out Quinnipiac in Notre Dame's 112-52 victory. The 5-foot-10-inch All-America candidate unleashed 20 minutes of furious intensity, scoring 23 points to help the Irish improve to 6-0.
What enabled Loyd to go full speed in Notre Dame's third game in three days and fifth game in seven days was a comprehensive conditioning program enhanced by GPS technology. The innovation--Notre Dame is one of the few collegiate athletic programs to use GPS tracking on athletes--gives Notre Dame a huge edge against competitors by helping the Irish plan strategy, optimize performance and prevent injuries.
Combining cutting-edge technology with an already exceptional program for conditioning, training and nutrition, the Irish have an arsenal of weapons to help them be in shape for a run deep into the NCAA Championship.
Irish Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw scheduled last week's Wednesday and Friday games to replicate the NCAA Championship's quick turnaround. The three games in three consecutive days is identical to what the Irish could face in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
McGraw praised assistant director of strength and conditioning Craig Cheek and assistant athletic trainer Anne Marquez for their efforts in keeping the Irish at full strength for that stretch of three games in three days.
"I think between the two of them we feel like we're in really good hands," McGraw said of Cheek and Marquez.
McGraw said she felt her team rose to the challenge of five games in seven days.
"I'm really proud of the team right now," McGraw said. "We've had such a tough stretch. It has been really difficult to play Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. It's been really difficult because our players have also been in class, finishing papers and taking tests. I'm really proud of the effort.
"I think we tried to really go easy on game days and not try to do too much in shoot-arounds. We went really light on Saturday. We've kind of eased up on them a bit, but now we need to get them back in great shape and get them ready for a 35-minute game night. We'll work on that Friday and Saturday and get ready to dive into yet another tough stretch in the schedule."
Next week Notre Dame takes on Maryland on Wednesday (in Fort Wayne, Indiana), and defending national champion Connecticut Saturday at home. Cheek and Marquez will have the Irish ready for battle.
"We have a plan in place," Cheek said of how to handle a tough, tourney-type stretch.
"We know what we're going to do post-game in terms of stretching and mobility, getting the kids hydrated again and getting their nutrition on point. I think that's the big thing, educating the student-athletes. What we do specifically isn't magical. It's a matter of getting them in the ice baths and doing a stretch routine. We've been well prepared for this for a while. It starts with the conditioning they do and the way they practice."
Cheek monitors about 300 different data points from the GPS technology. Irish players wear a small chip embedded in the back of their jerseys. The information allows Cheek and Marquez to give recommendations to McGraw regarding conditioning, practice and therapy, with evidence to back it up.
"What the GPS allows us to do is quantify exactly what we're doing, instead of just guessing, 'Yeah, that was a hard practice,' or, 'Yeah, that was an easy practice,'" Cheek said. "Now, we can assign a number to it and say, 'Yeah, that really was a hard practice.' It helps the coaches make better decisions. We talked with Coach (McGraw) before the (Quinnipiac) game and looked at the numbers, and we were able to say that we're in pretty good shape, just because we've been able to recover. It's technology that will help her make strategic decisions down the road."
GPS numbers are specific to each player.
"We can say, 'Look, Lindsay (Allen) had a really, really hard game. We need to hold her back a little bit in practice. Have her take fewer reps,'" Cheek said. "I won't advocate that they need a day off. I won't say that, but it helps us make an informed decision that we need today to be a really light practice."
Cheek will know exactly how many times a player jumped during a game, thanks to the GPS chip. He will know how many times a player went to the left, the right, moved forward and moved backward.
"This can help us prevent injuries," Cheek said. "We'll see some trends. Maybe this particular player is always going left and that's why her right knee is hurting, because she's pushing off that leg so much. I can develop training plans specific to that individual and do more left-side work instead of right.
"We're just scratching the surface with the technology right now. It's real now. We'll have to collect data for a year to get some serious game data. I think when we play Maryland and Connecticut, for example, the numbers will shift to the higher end of the intensity spectrum."
Marquez plays a critical role in injury prevention and rehabilitation.
"A lot of it is them listening to their bodies and working really well with Craig and (nutritionist) Kayla (Matrunick), making sure they're getting the right foods in them, making sure they're recovering well, making sure they're hydrating well," Marquez said.
"That can be important as far as inflammation and taking care of injuries. It helps the body heal a little bit better and a little bit faster--and we can help them at any time. The team knows that any day, any hour, I'm here and I'm available for them."
Marquez educates the student-athletes to be aware, which is important when a team is dealing with a tough stretch.
"The girls really do listen to their bodies," Marquez said. "They're so in tune with their bodies, they know when something is not feeling right. They know when they can push a little more. I get to know them and know their personalities. I know when I can push them a little more, and I know how the body is going to respond to certain things that we do in the athletic training room. In a short period of time, in a quick turnaround, you have to know what's going to work best from a healing standpoint.
"Then I need to make the right decisions treatment-wise, in terms of what time of day it is, what kind of game do we have coming up, making sure that I'm not burning them out from a physical therapy standpoint, working the right muscles from a rehabilitative standpoint instead of trying to work it and tiring them out even more."
Loyd said the Irish were prepared and conditioned to handle the five games in seven days.
"It was kind of like an AAU tournament where you play four or five games in one day. As a team, we were trying to stay focused and do what we needed to do. We took ice baths, did extra stretching and really tried to do anything we could to stay rested as much as possible. Our mindset was different, and we had to try to stay focused in walk-throughs and practice."
As Notre Dame embarks on the marathon women's basketball season, the Irish are ready for the long run.
"To my knowledge, we're one of the only women's basketball teams in the country that is utilizing this technology," Cheek said of the GPS. "It's going to pay off, especially at tournament time. It will help us project in February, March and April. We'll know where we stand and how to plan."
-- by Curt Rallo, special correspondent