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Terps

For cutting-edge Maryland men's soccer team, future of conditioning looks much like a sports bra

Maryland forward Sebastian Elney in his Sport VX vest after scoring the game-winning goal in overtime against UCLA on Sept. 4, 2015, at Ludwig Field in College Park.

COLLEGE PARK — This is the age of Moneyball, big data and Nate Silver, so near the end of a long practice Thursday, Sasho Cirovski, 24th-year coach of the Maryland men's soccer team, went over to the 27-year-old with the laptop.

The undefeated, No. 1 Terps hadn't played a game in three days. They wouldn't begin their NCAA tournament slate, against Providence on Sunday, for another four. Cirovski asked Ryan Cotter, the team's strength and conditioning coach, whether another 10 minutes of 11-on-11 practice was prudent.

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There was an app for that; Cotter had before him enough performance data to fill nearby McKeldin Library. The goal for the training session was to cover at least 5,000 meters, or about 3.1 miles, "enough of a training stimulus to stay fit," Cotter said. He told Cirovski the team's average was about 5,100 meters. Another 10 minutes would push the total another 400 or 500 meters. That was fine, he said, so practice went on, Cirovski's tactical and technical goals optimized by what Cotter calls "the future" of strength and conditioning.

"We give them a mental competitive advantage going into games knowing that we've managed their bodies and their minds to the best of their abilities," Cirovski said Wednesday. "Always looking for an edge, and that certainly is one area where I think we do a better job than anybody in the country."

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In the present, the future of strength and conditioning looks an awful lot like a sports bra. Maryland's VX Sports skin-tight compression harnesses, purchased in 2015, just before Cotter's arrival, house a small electronic box with a built-in GPS, accelerometer, digital radio and magnetometers, along with a heart-rate strap.

During practice, troves of real-time data are beamed in to Cotter's computer, and like a day trader on Wall Street, he has come to distinguish signals from noise.

A handful of metrics demand his attention in particular: total distance covered (a reliable indicator of fatigue), high-intensity running (roughly defined as a fast jog, which tests cardiovascular endurance and taxes hamstrings), very high-intensity running (sprints clocking about 15 mph), and high-intensity acceleration and deceleration (which stress the central nervous system, hamstrings, quadriceps and hip flexors).

Coaches, Cotter said, "don't always think about the physical side of it — like, what's the toll of this taking on our guys' bodies?" But that mindset is changing, in College Park and abroad. As information has become increasingly available and considered in the decision-making process, teams are relying less on intuition. Catapult, one of the leaders in wearable technology, counts the Alabama football team, Golden State Warriors, Denver Broncos and Real Madrid among its clients.

At Maryland, VX Sports has made practice management less an art than a science. Cotter pointed to Alex Crognale, the Big Ten Conference Defensive Player of the Year. The senior center back runs about 10,000 meters per game, a little more than 6 miles. In a typical two-game regular-season week, that works out to 20,000 meters.

Because Cotter and Terps coaches shoot for a weekly distance load equal to about 350 percent of a normal game's work, Crognale would be allotted another 15,000 or so meters over the rest of the week in practice.

"The college system is very challenging for your body," said sophomore forward Gordon Wild, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. "With playing two games a week, it's very intense. The human body's not made for games two times a week."

Of course, Maryland's investment in the technology — some manufacturers' more expensive monitors can cost over $1,000 — has made it so that Cirovski's staff, in some ways, knows players' bodies better than even the players themselves. Cotter joked that "there's really no place to hide" for players complaining of an elevated workload. The tape doesn't lie, and neither do his Excel spreadsheets.

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That reality has taken some getting used to. So, too, has the fashion. While many Terps happily rock the Brandi Chastain-inspired look during practice, their VX Sports vest over their jersey, fans and passersby often are left to wonder why the team seemingly adopted a version of the "Bro" that Kramer invented long ago on "Seinfeld."

After Sebastian Elney's overtime game-winning goal against No. 1 UCLA last season, the then-freshman forward removed his jersey and made one last heart-pumping sprint, to the student section behind the net. Fans were delighted, if confused. The team's Twitter account sought to clarify the scene.

"FUN FACT: The fellas are wearing heart monitors," @MarylandMSoccer wrote, "not sports bras."

jshaffer@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jonas_shaffer


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