Illini women’s focus turns to winter strength building

By Harini Ganesh

Throughout the fall season the Illinois women’s tennis team has improved its technique and skills, but another major part of its preparation over the season was a new strength and conditioning plan.

“Everyone has really made an improvement,” head coach Sujay Lama said of the team. “This year our strength and conditioning is top-notch.”

The women work with their strength and conditioning coach, Steve Oldenburg. He divided up the team in groups in regards to its needs.

“We did a little bit of everything with them,” he said. “So we tried to tailor to their needs, while they were playing in the fall tournaments.”

With the fall season now over, the team is getting ready for the spring season. While the fall focuses more on the individual player, come January, it will be every player doing their best for the team.

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Oldenburg said the team was tested for muscle imbalances and has been doing strength exercises and stretching programs.

“We personalized them for each athlete to correct those,” he said. “We hope to correct not only deficits in movement on the court but also prevent injuries.”

Senior Brianna Knue knows that going into the offseason, keeping fit is more important than ever. The team is now allowed six hours of conditioning a week, with lifting three times a week and running twice.

“It makes us tougher players,” she said. “It helps us outlast our opponents on the court and it is a big part of our success.”

Knue has noticed her teammates’ progress over the fall season.

“A lot of people are now moving faster on court,” she said. “They’re in better condition now to get the ball better.”

Oldenburg caters to the need for speed by providing speed bungees and pulling sleds. He has also introduced the medicine ball for agility training.

He said on-court they use quick, short movements, and when they go for a big forehand, they have to put the most power output on that ball.

“It’s a drastic form of what they’re doing on court,” he said of the medicine ball training. “Instead of swinging a racquet, they’re throwing between six and eight pounds.”

So far Oldenburg thinks that everyone has made an improvement on what they have been focusing on in either cardiovascular or strength training.

“It’s been a joy to work with the team on that standpoint,” he said.

Knue has reaped the benefits from the new strength and conditioning training this season.

“I’ve noticed that I recover faster,” she said. “It’s given us more endurance on court, not just with cardiovascular, but also with getting stronger with our legs.”

Movement is a crucial part of tennis, and Lama wants his players to work on their endurance so they can reach better and cover the entire leg of the court. He emphasizes working on the whole fitness level, from flexibility to agility to reaction so the players can build on their stamina.

“Everyone is doing what they need,” he said, “but some kids need to get in better shape so they’re doing more on endurance.”

One player Lama thinks has really stood out this season is Knue. He agrees that everyone has improved greatly, but Knue, he said, has made the biggest jump.

“That’s an overall stand out,” he said. “There are some girls who are better in some areas, but if you look at total fitness, stamina and speed, she has shown real improvement.”