Penn field hockey has played through five overtimes this year. Five!
What’s crazy is that in a six-game span between Sept. 25 and Oct. 28, the Quakers played almost 70 extra minutes of sudden death field hockey. Even crazier is that the team emerged unscathed every time but one — a tough 2-1 loss to Columbia on the road that snapped Penn’s nine-game winning streak.
Tallying a 4-1 record in such closely contested games shows that Penn is capable of literally running circles around its opponents deep into games. This level of fitness and stamina is new for the Quakers, thanks to a revamped strength and conditioning program and the help of Penn Athletics’ new SpartaTrac training system.
“It just is funny because I do think a lot of teams think we’re pretty fit,” coach Colleen Fink said.
“One of our opposing teams that we had already played and had beaten earlier in the year came up to us and said, ‘What are you doing? Do you do your strength and conditioning? Does somebody else do it? What do you do? What’s your focus? How are you doing it?’”
So really, how is field hockey doing it?
It all boils down to new technology and a smarter approach to training. Back in Jan. 2015, after the team returned from winter break, strength and conditioning manager Jim Steel started incorporating SpartaTrac technology into the team’s weight room regimen, making field hockey a guinea pig program. At the time, the app and all of its data were new — to the players, to their coaches and to the strength and conditioning staff.
Fink immediately went all in. “My biggest thing was if they’re going to bring this in and spend all this money on bringing it in, then I want to utilize it to the highest level and capacity,” she said.
What’s great about SpartaTrac — aside from the obvious fitness benefits — is that it enables a level of coordination between the coaches never before possible. Every coach, from the nutritionist to Fink, has access to a players’ lifting workouts, sleep, nutrition and workout intensity rating from the most-recent practice. The hardest thing, Fink said, is remembering to input all of the data on a daily basis.
“It’s about getting the girls to buy in,” she said. “The information is only as good as what they are putting in. ... But if we keep up on it, it becomes second nature.”
It took time for the team to get accustomed to the new technology.
“In the beginning we weren’t using all of the different aspects,” senior captain Elizabeth Hitti said. “We had the app, but we didn’t have the workouts on there. [Steel] was still writing the workouts on the board, and we were entering the information into our app.”
Now that nearly nine months have passed and the kinks have been worked out, the team’s routine when they arrive at Weiss Pavilion, home of the varsity weight room, is completely different than it was last fall. Previously, the team would huddle up and each player would perform the same exercises at the same pace, referencing workouts printed out on sheets of paper tacked to the room’s sturdy cement pillars.
This fall, the workouts are paperless, just a few finger taps on a phone screen away using the SpartaTrac app.
“Steel still kind of runs the lift,” Hitti said. “The only difference now is that the workout is on our phones.”
These workouts are also customized for each player on the roster, as the app prescribes and records everything from the exercises, to the reps, to the specific weights.
According to Associate Athletic Director for Sports Performance and Head Athletic Trainer Eric Laudano, the customization aspect is the biggest asset of SpartaTrac. “Everyone needs to do different workouts,” he said. “Monotony of training is one thing that we’re not about.
“We always say a training session or a program should not look like the Sahara Desert, it should look like the Swiss Alps. So you’re doing something hard, you’re coming down and doing something new and different.”
Additionally, Steel completely restructured the team’s strength and conditioning strategy in the spring offseason, effectively rendering the topology of the team’s workouts much more “mountainous,” as Laudano’s metaphor goes.
Instead of attempting to maintain peak game-ready fitness for all nine months of the academic year, the team now follows a block schedule with distinct phases for each part of the year. During the winter, the team undergoes a bulking phase with a focus on strength over stamina. As Fink’s squad transitions after spring break to start playing in tournaments, the emphasis shifts back to stamina.
The fall regimen is characterized by four week cycles: three week of intense lifting followed by one unload week to allow each players’ body a chance at muscle regeneration.
“One of our weaknesses and mistakes in the past is that we would just go, go, go, go, go, go and we didn’t realize that we were breaking them down,” said Fink.
This year’s team is not broken down. No, far from that.
Thus far in 2015, the team set a record for the best start (10-1 as of Oct. 10) and the longest win streak (nine games) in school history. Even the individual players have reached historic levels of productivity.
For example, only 10 games into the season, Alexa Hoover broke the single-season records for goals and points. At that point in the 2015-16 season, the Quakers still had six games left to play. Beyond just Hoover, the stat sheet for almost every player on the team’s 20-woman roster have improved from the 2014 campaign.
Even just amongst the returning players and the freshmen, there is a tangible fitness gap. As junior attack Elise Tilton explains, “the people that have been doing the [SpartaTrac] and lifting stuff longer are faster and are quicker because you just don’t do that stuff when you’re in high school.”
Although it would be naive to attribute all of the team’s success in 2015 purely to the physical side of preparation, it is clear that the Quakers that call Ellen Vagelos Field home this year are a fundamentally different squad than their 2014 iteration. It shows in their confidence, and it shows in their game plan.
“We implement fitness clearly into a lot of our games with the speed of the game and we attack the game versus letting the game come to us,” Fink said. “The games we play the best, that is our approach.”
Perhaps the craziest thing about this field hockey team is that Fink thinks there is even more to be gained from SpartaTrac and all of the other sports performance intiatives the University introduced in the past calendar year.
For now, with only two games left in 2015, Tilton and the rest of the team are happy with what they’ve been able to accomplish so far.
“If we make it through five overtimes I think we’re alright.”
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