AMES – Pete Link’s been put to the test.
The first-year Iowa State women’s basketball director of strength and conditioning not only sought to improve muscle integrity and endurance among the players, but also set out to decrease the occurrence — or recurrence — of injury.
He’s succeeded on all fronts.
The Cyclones (21-7) finished second in the Big 12 after being slotted in the preseason — when they were toiling the hardest — by coaches at sixth.
Serious injuries, besides star forward Chelsea Poppens’ early-season concussion, have been non-existent.
And ISU enters their Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal at 6 p.m. Saturday against Kansas or TCU at Dallas as the only team in the league featuring a tight six-player rotation, barring foul trouble.
“we’ve never had a fully devoted strength and conditioning coach in my time here,” said Cyclone coach Bill Fennelly, whose team topped the 20-win plateau for the 12th time in his 17 seasons. “I think the results speak for themselves in terms of our ability to manage a long, tough season.”
Another season awaits — and it’s length will be determined, in part, by ISU’s ability to thrive in quick turnarounds.
A foundation of fortitude established largely in the preseason helps make that physically possible.
“I don’t think a lot of people understand the time commitment the team puts in in the offseason,” Link said. “They obviously don’t like everything, but I think they understand the benefits.”
Ask injury-plagued post Anna Prins, whose senior season has been malady-free.
She raised her average minutes per game from 18.2 to 26 and scoring output from 7.9 to 11.
“Sometimes we’re like, ‘Why do we have to do these little things? It just takes more time,’” Prins said. “But I know that even everything down to our ankle exercises that we do, it’s really helped strengthen the smallest detail parts of our games. He’s done a really great job.”
Link’s devised highly individualized workouts and remains keenly attuned to how each player is feeling.
If they’re sore, he backs off.
“We’ve lifted a lot more than in previous years, which we always complain about,” Poppens said. “But it helps.”
Since the preseason, Link-led workouts have centered on maintenance and injury prevention.
“It seems that everybody has stayed healthy this year, which hasn’t happened in the past,” said Cyclone forward Hallie Christofferson, a first team all-Big 12 selection along with Poppens. “Just to keep a regular lift going and just conditioning on the side helps us be in shape and not just in shape, but in Big 12 shape.”
ISU’s a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but wants to preface that event with a deep run in Dallas.
The Cyclones split with the Jayhawks and Horned Frogs this season — and played both within the past 11 days.
“Getting ready won’t be as hard,” Fennelly said. “We’ll take practice and literally half of it will be KU prep and half will be TCU prep, and do the things that we’ve been doing.”
The bulk of Link’s prep was done long ago and keeps reaping dividends.
Even routines that included the dreaded chin-up.
“I don’t think anybody likes doing chin-ups,” Link said.
Not while they’re happening, at least.
“It can be a love-hate relationship,” Christofferson said of the arduous summer lifting sessions. “But you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do to compete in this league and if that’s what it takes, then it has to be done.”
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