February 13, 2008

Practice Makes Perfect; A Week With the Red

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Much of the talk around campus regarding Cornell athletics these days focuses on the men’s basketball team, fresh off a weekend sweep of Princeton and Penn, and the ever-important men’s hockey team. However glamorous those two teams may be, one overlooked team is quietly putting together a very impressive Ivy League season — women’s basketball.
With a 5-1 record in Ivy League play, the women’s basketball team (13-6) is in a first-place tie and just completed a sweep of its own over the Tigers and Quakers. Its lone conference loss came against Columbia on the road, and the team rebounded nicely after that unexpected defeat. The key ingredient that has made this team so successful is exactly the same as every other team on campus, including the men’s basketball and hockey teams — practice.
[img_assist|nid=27703|title=Marvelous Maduka|desc=Junior forward Jeomi Maduka (center) and her 13.9 ppg have led the Red to a first-place tie in the Ivies.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]The week starts out on Monday with a team self-evaluation of its performance over the previous weekend. The players and coaches watch film of the games and try to break down exactly what went right and what went wrong against their previous opponents, then correct their mistakes in practice.
On Tuesday, the team shoots around and begins to scout the upcoming opponents’ offensive and defensive schemes. According to head coach Dayna Smith, Tuesday is one of the tougher mental days the team faces during a week.
“We do a lot of things out of our offense,” Smith said. “We try to focus on some offensive shots that we feel we’re going to get in the weekend coming up.”
Wednesday is a more physically demanding day for the players. The team usually scrimmages on Wednesday and the players lift weights as well. Sophomore guard Lauren Benson said that Wednesday is her least favorite day of practice.
“There’re still a few more days before the actual game,” Benson said, “so you’re getting really anxious, but at the same time you have to work on the stuff that we’re focusing on during the week. You can’t get too amped up for the game because there is still stuff that you need to prepare for.”
“Thursday is more of a prep day,” Smith said. “We finalize our game plan for the weekend, particularly the Friday night game.”
The way the practice schedule has worked itself out this season has days alternating in intensity level.
“I like the rotation this year,” Benson said. “We’re doing a heavier day on Monday, a lighter day on Tuesday, then we get really into it on Wednesday, then we have another day to just kind of mentally prepare ourselves for the game on Friday. I actually really like the way [Coach Smith] mapped out the schedule for us this year. I think it’s working really well.”
Smith noted that as the season goes on, she usually decreases the number of hours players spend in practice in order to keep them fresh. She also pointed out the importance of watching the players’ diet during the season.
The players don’t go to the Souvlaki House just for the taste; Coach Smith noted that because the restaurant specializes in Italian and Greek cuisine, the players can get the pasta and chicken dishes that are often perfect for athletes looking to stay in top shape.
While avoiding the dining halls periodically by going to the Souvalki House, the team has also had to figure out how to maintain a good diet on the road.
“Cornell’s the most difficult place to travel from,” Smith said. “No matter who our Ivy opponent is, it’s at least four hours. For us the home game is a great advantage because [our opponent] plays Friday night, then they have to travel four-and-a-half hours.”
However demanding the travel schedule may be, Benson feels that the time on the road helps to keep the team focused.
“I actually don’t mind traveling as much as some people might,” Benson said. “I actually like traveling, getting the whole team out together, you don’t have as many distractions on the road as you might at home because you have your friends and stuff like that.”
Benson said that the team’s extensive travel experience, including games in West Virginia and Ohio, help mitigate the fatiguing effects of long road trips.
While Benson admitted that she hasn’t found a personal pre-game ritual — “I usually stick to things as long as they keep working,” Benson said — other members of the team all have personal habits or preferences that have to be followed before the games.
One special tradition that the team has before home games is the pre-game meal at the Souvlaki House in Collegetown.
“We’ve gone there for a couple of years; it’s a great pre-game meal spot,” Smith said. “The food is great, they give you big portions and they’re really friendly to us. … Souvlaki House is our place.”
Whether it’s the Greek and Italian cuisine at the Souvlaki House, the long and tiring trip required of visiting teams or the friendly home crowd, something is apparently working for the Red in Ithaca. It currently has a 7-2 record at Newman Arena, which is sure to be an important source of confidence when the Red finish its Ivy League season with a two-game weekend at home.