ND women see alot of strength and conditioning coach Michael Szemborski

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Even before head coach Muffet McGraw gets her time on the court with her Notre Dame women’s basketball team just prior to a game, Michael Szemborski gets his.

The Irish look about as locked in on his instructions, too, as they do hers.

“Well, I would hope they’re paying attention,” ND’s strength and conditioning coach said with a laugh Tuesday that belied how intense he sometimes appears as he puts the players through their variety of pregame stretches and exercises.

Much of the warm-up routine is applied universally. Other parts are directed toward a specific player’s needs.

“There are times a strength coach is not a player’s (favorite person), but it is important,” Szemborski said. “We literally get their bodies ready for rigorous competition. We’ve got to make sure we’re preparing all their joints and all their muscles to hopefully get through that game without injury, so if they’re just going through the motions or not paying attention to the stretches, that’s going to show at tip-off.”

It hasn’t been a problem with this team, though.

“They’re very bought-in,” Szemborski said of the defending national champs. “They understand how important the fitness and the training aspect is, and they know it’s going to help them.”

Szemborski, 35, is in his second year as director of strength and conditioning for all Olympic-related sports at Notre Dame, after serving the final seven of his 12 years at Maryland in that same capacity.

He’s in his first season also working on a daily basis with the women’s basketball program and works directly with women’s soccer as well.

“We trust Mike,” freshman guard Jordan Nixon said Tuesday of Szemborski, who is the third strength and conditioning coach for women’s basketball in four years. “He’s a great guy and a great strength coach. He knows what he’s doing, and really, whatever he says is what we do, what we go with. We trust that he’ll get us where we need to be.”

The pregame stretches are but a mere morsel in the assortment of training-related work that goes on for Irish players virtually year-round.

“In season, I see them two or three times a week in the weight room, but in the offseason, I might see them five or six times,” Szemborski said, “whether it’s in the weight room, whether it’s conditioning work, or maybe specific agility and footwork sessions on the court. Out of season, I’m actually getting many more contact hours than in season, but in season, I’m also seeing them every day in practice.”

Szemborski meets weekly with McGraw, who said she likes the “analytical side” that comes with the monitoring that Szemborski and the ND sport performance department staff conduct.

“He gives us reports on how (the players’) levels are doing,” McGraw said of Szemborski, “how hard they’ve been working, whether they need time off. It’s his job to tell me if there’s anything they need to ease off of or if one or two have been working too hard.”

Working too hard can happen in or out of season.

“Sometimes we actually have to tell them to take some days off,” Szemborski said, “because it’s so important that they get that recovery time. When I look at it holistically, whether it be a week or a month or whatever a training cycle looks like, I’m building de-load or recovery-type sessions for them. If we don’t tell them to recover, they’re going to keep going. We have to make sure we’re not over-training them.”

Concerns related to over-training can include fatigue or even injuries.

One particular injury that Notre Dame experienced at a stunning and disheartening rate from March to December 2017 was torn anterior cruciate ligaments, with four players suffering that season-ending fate to their knees.

“Oh yeah,” Szemborski said of whether specific things can be done to reduce ACL injuries. “We as a Notre Dame sport performance department have really tried to look at every angle, like what are some of the red flags that could pop up through our injury screenings or their medical histories, or how much sleep they’re getting, how stressed are they from school, what are their nutrition habits?

“We look holistically at our athletes,” Szemborski continued. “What could lead to an injury? What led to an injury? Also, what does the recovery process look like? Are we taking enough time to really get them strong enough before returning them to play?

“We’re never going to eliminate injuries from sports,” he emphasized, “but we feel very confident as a performance unit at Notre Dame that we are not leaving any stone unturned in terms of trying to figure out how we can find ways to reduce them.”

Conditioning, weight training and nutrition may not be the most enjoyable things for some athletes, and can even be daunting ones, so Szemborski tries to bear that in mind.

“I definitely want them to have a positive experience,” said Szemborski, who has a degree in kinesiology from Longwood University in Virginia. “I don’t want them to ever fear the weight room, but I do want them to understand that it’s going to be challenging, but it’s going to make them better at the end of the day.”

Nixon, who also worked extensively with a trainer in high school, praises the way Szemborski explains.

“We’re not just doing things blindly,” Nixon said. “If we have a question, Mike’s more than willing to answer.”

For his part, Szemborski is appreciating being affiliated with another contender.

At Maryland, the native of Alexandria, Va., worked with seven national title teams, including four in women’s lacrosse and one each in women’s field hockey, men’s lacrosse and competitive cheerleading.

“Even being around other championship teams, this team’s ability to just really turn it on has been really impressive to me,” Szemborski said. “You’ve seen where a game or something doesn’t necessarily go the way we want, but then all of a sudden, they have that ability to flip a switch.”

Travel plan altered

Notre Dame’s scheduled flight for Wednesday night’s game at Boston College was postponed Tuesday afternoon to 8 a.m. game day because of weather-related concerns.

“It doesn’t alter too much,” McGraw said Tuesday of her team’s routine. “We’ll still have practice today. We’ll still have a shoot-around tomorrow and be at the hotel for the day. It’s just a little bit of adversity thrown into the mix.”

Sophomore center Mikayla Vaughn will not make the trip, according to McGraw, after suffering a concussion during Sunday’s 97-70 win over Florida State.

Vaughn remains out indefinitely but is “doing better than expected,” McGraw said.

Notre Dame trainer Michael Szemborski helps player Jackie Young stretch during warmups on the court before the Notre Dame-Florida State basketball game last Sunday in South Bend.
Notre Dame’s Mikayla Vaughn (30) is helped off the court after suffering a concussion against Florida State Sunday in South Bend. Vaughn is not making the trip to Boston College because of the concussion.

“We look holistically at our athletes What could lead to an injury? What led to an injury? Also, what does the recovery process look like? Are we taking enough time to really get them strong enough before returning them to play?"

Notre Dame strength and conditioning coach Michael Szemborski

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

WHO: No. 6 Notre Dame (22-3, 9-2 ACC) vs. Boston College (14-10, 3-8).

WHERE: Conte Forum (8,606), Chestnut Hill, Mass.

WHEN: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

RADIO: Pulse (103.1 / 96.9 / 92.1 FM).

TV/WEB: ACC Network Extra.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

NOTING: The Irish downed the Eagles 92-63 on Jan. 20 in South Bend. … Boston College is the only school that Notre Dame’s been slotted to play twice during every one of its six seasons in the ACC. The Irish are 11-0 in those meetings and have defeated the Eagles 13 straight overall. … Emma Guy, a 6-3 junior, is coming off career highs of 30 points and 10 offensive rebounds in BC’s 96-69 loss Sunday at No. 15 Syracuse. She’s averaging 14.0 points and 7.1 boards. Other leaders for the Eagles, who do not sport a senior on their roster, are freshman Makayla Dickens (13.2 ppg, 3.9 assists, 60-of-143 on 3s for 42 percent), junior Taylor Ortlepp (11.6 ppg, 57-of-160 on 3s for 36 percent), junior Georgia Pineau (8.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.2 blocks) and freshman Marnelle Garraud (8.5 ppg, 1.8 steals). … Pacing the Irish are Arike Ogunbowale (21.0 ppg, 4.0 apg, 1.8 spg), Jessica Shepard (15.5 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 60 percent from the field), Jackie Young (14.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.7 apg), Marina Mabrey (14.7 ppg, 4.3 apg, 53-of-113 on 3s for 47 percent) and Brianna Turner (12.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.8 bpg). … By virtue of its losses at North Carolina, 78-73, and Miami, 72-65, ND’s dropped two of its last three road games. … The Eagles have lost six of their last seven games overall, though one of those is a narrow road defeat against currently No. 20 Miami, 76-73.