March 8, 2016
BLACKSBURG, Va. –
By Leigh Torbin
Teams practice for specific games on a regular basis. This week, the No. 6 Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team has a chance to practice for an entire tournament.
While the hotel will be different come April 28 to May 1 along with the venue (65,632-seat Lane Stadium vs. 2,500-seat Thompson Field), the Irish will still find themselves in Blacksburg, Virginia, eating at familiar restaurants like Cabo Fish Taco and Macado’s, faced with the rare task of winning games in consecutive days.
The challenge presented by the ACC Championship format with the first two games being contested on consecutive days is surprisingly unusual. Notre Dame has not played on consecutive days in the regular season since 2003, defeating Northwestern and Rutgers on April 26 and 27, respectively.
A year ago, the Irish climbed the first hurdle of this challenge, downing Virginia in the ACC quarterfinals but the 24-hour turnaround to face North Carolina in the ACC semifinals did not go so smoothly as the Tar Heels picked up a comfortable victory.
Notre Dame’s mettle will be tested as it faces Virginia Tech at 3 p.m. on Tuesday followed by a 3 p.m. game on Wednesday against Liberty also in Blacksburg.
Tuesday afternoon’s schedule will have a noted absence of lag time for the Irish. Lulls that often accompany a post game do not exist as the final horn on the contest with the Hokies will come about 22 hours from first draw against the Flames. The Irish will get dinner and go straight into a video review of the Virginia Tech game along with their Liberty scouting report.
The intent is to help the Irish figuratively flip the switch from the Hokies to the Flames in exactly the same manner and in the same city where six weeks from now they will be flipping a switch between any number of challenging ACC teams — a league where seven of the eight schools are ranked in the top 15 of this week’s national polls.
“It’s about taking the right measures to recover after the (first) game,” senior Heidi Annaheim said. “(We need to be) drinking a lot of water, doing the NormaTecs and being ready to stretch a lot to be ready for the next game.”
“I think we learned from it last year,” graduate student Barbara Sullivan said of the 2015 ACC Championship. “It was our first experience playing back-to-back. We know better how to recover and get our bodies back the next day to play again.”
The NormaTecs which Annaheim mention play a crucial role. To the untrained eye, they are simply puffy black sleeves or bags which you will see covering body parts of countless Notre Dame student-athletes if you visit one of the University’s athletic training rooms.
The latest weapon in the Irish recovery arsenal was purchased by many Irish teams though funds provided by the Joseph T. Mendelson Endowment for Athletics Excellence. The NormaTec recovery system utilizes pulsed intermittent pneumatic compression to attenuate development of post-activity muscle soreness, allowing for improved performance following successive competitive bouts. In layman’s terms, a series of strategically-placed pulses assuages fatigue from muscles, allowing for normal circulation to return faster.
The team’s athletic trainer, and NormaTec expert, Brad Kneibel, is with the Irish in Blacksburg along with a detailed plan for the team from their strength and conditioning coach Geoff Puls. The execution of that plan and the enhanced emphasis on recovery time will play a central role in how the Irish perform against Liberty.
Although not consecutive days, the Irish did play two games within 41 hours recently. On Friday night, Feb. 26, the Irish dropped Colorado, 14-4. Sunday afternoon the team was back on the field to face California at noon. Were the Irish ready for the opening whistle? Yes, perhaps like never before. Notre Dame scored 12 seconds into the game, scored again 34 seconds into the game, and tallied each of the contest’s first 16 goals en route to a 21-2 demolition of the Golden Bears.
The success of that recent experience is not lost on Annaheim.
“Even two weeks ago when we had just the one day in between (games) we did a good job recovering from one game into the next game,” the junior attacker from New Jersey said.
In addition to its two actual opponents, the Irish face a physical challenge on Tuesday and Wednesday in Blacksburg. But, just as the massive west side tower at Lane Stadium looms over nearby Thompson Field’s modest grandstand, the mental pressure of ACC Championship play will dwarf any two regular season games in early March.
But the adage goes that practice makes perfect. If the Irish get over the Blue Ridge Mountains-based hump they face Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon, their confidence, preparation, conditioning and recovery times will be in a better place when the hump of Thursday and Friday, April 28-29, arrives upon their return to the Blue Ridge range.
Leigh Torbin, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2013 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team while serving as the football publicity team’s top lieutenant. A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, Torbin graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in sports management. He has previously worked full-time on the athletic communications staffs at Vanderbilt, Florida, Connecticut and UCF.