July 30, 2013
VILLANOVA, Pa. - It isn't often that a weight room, home to strain and sweat, is likened to a refreshing river.
But in one important way, says one of its primary tenants, the refurbished Villanova Weight Room shares a key trait with said tributary.
"The room flows so much better than it did before," says Phil Matusz, a former Villanova Wildcat defensive lineman who now serves as a Strength Coach for Villanova Athletics.
Indeed, an area that once seemed cramped and dark now invites visitors in. There is natural light to shine through, courtesy of three newly added windows, and a retooled equipment display which allows the student-athletes of the 22 varsity sports at Villanova who will toil here ample space to build their bodies (the men's and women's basketball teams utilize the Davis Center weight room). Space that was once under-utilized now allows more athletes to be together as they go through the daily push to add muscle and flexibility.
"It just feels good," states Villanova head Volleyball coach Josh Steinbach. "The kids walk in there now and it feels nicer than it did before. They feel comfortable with the fact that they have something that is shiny and newer to use."
The new look is a marriage of imagination and fundraising. At a cost north of $400,000, this was a priority project for the athletics department in no small part because of the role that Strength and Conditioning plays in today's college athletics.
"When old school guys like me played, if we lifted it was kind of an unusual occurrence," says Steinbach. "But now it's a big deal. Our kids are volunteering in there over the summer, getting their workouts in. They are in there during the regular season and are especially in there in the spring.
"It's a huge part of what we do - running, lifting, jumping, trying to get stronger."
That theme is a constant through every sport sponsored at Villanova. Each team works with a Strength Coach in and out of season to insure that their bodies are in top form, be it on the football field or on a tennis court. The weight room is seldom overlooked when recruits tour campus - in fact, most prospective student athletes and their families listen intently as the respective strength coaches outline their program.
Of course, it wasn't always so. When current men's lacrosse head coach Michael Corrado played for the Wildcats from 1983-87, strength training was well down the list of priorities.
"When I played at Villanova we were in a trailer," he recalls with a smile. "It was called ATRA. It was all Nautilus equipment. There were no coaches in there so you did it on your own. You got a card, went in, did your workout, filled out your card and left.
"Strength training might be the single biggest difference between when I played until now."
So it is that after a fundraising effort spearheaded by the Villanova Athletic Fund generated the revenue, Associate Athletics Director Mick Keelan began working with members of the Strength and Football staffs to see how best to make the room work.
Atmosphere mattered but utility was paramount.
"Since we have teams with larger numbers in here," notes Matusz, "like men's and women's lacrosse, baseball and football, we wanted to set this up so we could get full groups in here. We can have as many as 43 people in here from one team and hold that comfortably, which wasn't true before. They can execute their exercises effectively and it works out well."
Here is where flow again enters the discussion. The increased capacity for athletes to train offers the benefit of better camaraderie - teammates challenging teammates - and helps reduce the scheduling crunches that would arise in trying to shoehorn multiple athletes into a 12-hour day during the fall and spring semesters.
"It gives us so many more options in scheduling," Matusz states.
Matusz knows well the bonding that takes place in the weight room as individuals strain to reach plateaus on their own strength journey. He lived it as a football player and watches it unfold daily today.
"It gives me goose-bumps," he says, "because you're with your brothers. You are with everyone year round. We can now take the entire offense and have them working together. I can have my quarterbacks on this rack, my running backs on this rack. They can be divided up but it's still that same mentality that they are fighting for a common goal."
Early on this summer morning, Matusz had the offense on hand in a one hour session followed by the defense.
"We had the offense in here at 7 a.m. followed by the defense at 8 a.m.," he says. "As soon as I'm done with the offense, I let the defense know that the offense just had a great workout. It gets the defense fired up and gives us a great start to the day."
The area will be up to full speed in early August when fall sports like field hockey, men's and women's soccer, and volleyball report in full for training camps. Not long after that the semester will begin and then each of the varsity sports will take their turns in the room.
What they will find is a brighter and more functional space.
"It makes it easier on our team," states Corrado. "In the past we have usually had a minimum of two lifting groups and sometimes three. Part of that was class schedule but part of it was an attempt to maximize the experience in the room.
"When I go in there now, it seems bigger with the way they set it up. We can show this room off and let people see that it's been updated. It's a positive now where before it was maybe a neutral."
And though it may not bring with it the cheers that come with a game-winning goal or 80 yard touchdown heave, the gains made here do matter. Indeed, it doesn't take any Villanova coach long to point to an athlete of recent vintage whose overall game benefitted in significant ways thanks to the hours logged in a weight room.
"I think you are going to watch one for us this year," states Steinbach when asked to point to a volleyball athlete. "Mariah Henley is probably going to be our starting libero this fall. As she has embraced lifting and conditioning over her career, she's gotten steadily better. She was a good player to start but did not like going in there to the weight room. But watching her this summer you see her get after it and it really helps a lot."
Corrado, the 2013 BIG EAST coach of the year in his sport, also has examples at the ready.
"Someone like Max Hart, one of our captains this past year is someone who benefited from the strength training," he says. "He probably gained 15-20 pounds from when he was a freshman until his junior year. I think it made him more durable, stronger and improved his shot. Tom Croonquist, one of our face-off guys, is also a good example of that. He's gotten stronger in his three years here."
Matusz is only a few years into his career as a strength coach but he too has a quick response on the question of what athletes have gained the most from their work in this space. In fact, one day this summer he instructed wide receiver Joe Price to see him once his lift ended. Price arrived with a bit of trepidation, according to his strength coach.
"I keep profiles on all of our guys," Matusz says. "I pulled out Joe's file and showed him the picture we took from his freshman year and compared it to where he is now. Back then he was thin and now he is a specimen. I said, `look how long it took you to get here.'
"It goes back to everything we preach here, from Coach (Andy) Talley to the staff to Father Rob (Hagan). It's tapping the rock. It really is. If you're looking for instant gratification, this isn't the place for you. We have guys who come into the program and say `I want to be successful'. The way to be successful is to pay your dues. You have to come in every day ready to go. It's only after brick after brick is laid only then is your house built."
Moving forward Wildcats across the spectrum of athletics will get to lay those bricks each day in a fresher, brighter and more efficient space.
A river may not run through it, but the new Villanova Weight Room, in its own way, flows smoothly to give its occupants a clear route to the success they desire.
- MIKE SHERIDAN
Villanova Media Relations