A quicker first step, a stronger throwing arm, better puck control, or the ability to outlast an opponent in overtime — these are the things which a devoted athlete dedicates himself or herself to in the offseason.
Training is the basic foundation of any good team, whether it be in the business world, military, government, or athletics. Here at Cornell, there exists a wide array of programs with which our athletes prepare for their respective seasons.
Some stay over the summer and use the uniquely gorgeous (or rather gorges) Ithaca weather to their advantage. Some are sent home with a specific program tailored to their developmental needs. Still others, take the offseason in stride and use it as a period of rest and relaxation to avoid the burn out associated with playing too much.
Although the players on the men’s hockey team may look particularly intimidating come playoff time, their physical prowess is probably at its most feeble state of the year. After sweating off muscle mass each day in practice and not supplementing that loss of mass with intense weight training, the players’ muscles can actually deteriorate over the course of the season.
Once the season is over, the immediate goal of strength coach Tom Howley is to rebuild that lean mass. Howley does this by crafting a personally modified program for each individual player. The players are then expected to meet the goals of their program by the first day of the following season.
Last season well over half of the men’s hockey team stayed over the 2001 summer to work with Howley and also participate in the hockey school the team runs at Lynah Rink.
Those that return home for the summer months have the personal responsibility of staying in shape and remaining sharp. However, head coach Mike Schafer ’86 discourages his players from participating in any organized league competitions for fear of injury.
“I mostly play pick-up games with fellow college players back home,” said sophomore Greg Hornby, who returned home to Nanaimo, British Columbia last summer, “other than that it’s mostly about working hard and sticking to Howley’s program for me.”
Hornby suffered an injury to his shoulder a season ago and was forced to work strenuously with a Howley-designed recovery plan in the year preceding this season’s glorious run.
“He’s incredible with designing a program that will keep you motivated and show definite results if you put in the time.” said Hornby of Howley and his rehabilitation program.
The women’s soccer squad arrives on campus a week earlier than most Cornell undergrads each year, as do most other fall sports teams. However, the excitement of returning to home sweet home is soon sobered for these women by the rigors of the initial week of practice. During this period the athletes’ first task is a rigorous fitness test full of fun-filled sprints, timed distance runs and weight training exercises.
Sarah Olsen, the junior co-captain of the women’s soccer team and two-time second team All-Ivy athlete, is a veteran of these tests.
“Coach [Berhane Andeberhan] gives us a list of expectations, and it’s up to us over the summer to get it done.” she said.
To attempt to meet her coach’s expectations, Olsen plays on the Adirondack area Empire State team that competes against other regional collegiate squads in New York State over the summer. Olsen also lifts weights and remains in game shape with a variety of sprints and agility drills during the offseason months.
“It’s something we all do because we don’t lift during the season that much and don’t get to train like we can when we’re not playing,” said Olsen, adding, “we need to be as ready as possible that first day.”
Breean Walas, senior co-captain of the women’s basketball team and the only Ivy League Rookie of the Year ever in her sport from Cornell, is also familiar with the first week expectations of a fitness-minded coach.
“It was always kind of a fun thing because they make it competitive,” said Walas.
The competition the second team All-Ivy selection refers to is something called the “Wall of Power” which is a team-by-team hierarchy of physical prowess. Those teams which have a first week fitness test grant players a certain amount of points for placing high enough in each event. At the end of the week the top performers from each squad have their names displayed on the Wall which is located in the Friedman Center for all to see and admire.
When asked what she used to do during her four summers as a Cornell athlete to work her way onto that wall year after year, Walas gave an intriguing answer.
“I never really did much,” the standout guard said, “you have to realize how much we play while we’re here. I always used it as a time to rest — stay in shape and keep things going in my game of course — but at the same time I tried to enjoy the time off.”
The same goes for the members of head coach Rob Koll’s wrestling team. Rather than demand that a strict dietary or training program be followed by his graplers, Koll asks his men to be wrestling camp counselors.
“It is a good way for the guys to continue wrestling,” said Koll of the three week event, “but it’s also important that they have a good time together as a team.”
Koll actually encourages his wrestlers to get jobs in the Ithaca area for the sake of team camaraderie and also to make sure they are able to get in the workout time needed to avoid getting “portly.”
Of course few athletes stop playing their actual sport and simply train while they are out of season. Most of Koll’s wrestlers enter free-style competitions in the months following the regular season, including the U.S. Open which takes place in Las Vegas and draws some of collegiate wrestling’s biggest names.
A program such as men’s tennis has a unique situation in that it is considered a two-season sport. The players compete individually throughout the fall, coming together only once for the ECAC championships. They then take a break for the better part of November and December only to reconvene in January for the Ivy League season.
Thus, the offseason for those on such teams is very short, if not non-existent. Over the summer, most of the men’s tennis players work with individual coaches and enter numerous regional, club, and even professional tournaments. At the same time they are looking to improve their quickness, muscle mass, and endurance for the NCAA season.
“It’s a pretty continuous schedule,” said sophomore singles player Scott Paltrowitz. “Most of the time you’re either playing or working out.”
Paltrowitz went on to explain that though tennis is an NCAA sponsored sport, players can compete in pro tournaments by simply refusing to accept the monetary awards associated with the event.
A sport such as polo is an unsponsored NCAA activity, and therefore has a little more leeway with what it can do in the offseason since it does not have to worry about strict regulations.
“I can’t sit here and list exactly what the differences are,” said men’s and women’s polo coach David Eldredge ’81, “but they are significant, and we reap the benefits of the extra liberty.”
Such benefits include Eldredge’s ability to hire some of his players to stay over the summer and work with the horses at his barn, which will later be used in competition. Cornell polo players are also encouraged to find connections near their homes with professional polo players.
“We like to keep them involved with riding, that’s the most important thing for the offseason,” said Eldredge, “as we say, ‘the more sadd
le time, the better.'”
The summer is, for most, a time of wonderful oblivion with little to do or worry about except for sun lotion or tan lines. However, for most Cornell athletes the offseason is anything but a party. Of course, as with anything and particularly in the world of competitive athletics, practice makes perfect.
For anyone who was able to enjoy the historic run of our beloved men’s hockey team, this is particularly relevant. It was not just some lucky bounces that allowed the team to advance all the way to the NCAA quarterfinals. Every senior on this year’s team stayed last summer to work on his game with coach Howley to become one of the most powerful and physically sound teams in all of college hockey. The sweat of the offseason translates into the glory of a championship.
Archived article by Scott Jones