Members of the Lehigh wrestling team work to build their strength before the start of the season on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016 at the Caruso Wrestling Complex. Lehigh kicks off the 2016-17 season November 6, 2016, participating in the East Stroudsburg Open. (Sarah Epstein/B&W Staff)

Off the field but on the clock: Student athletes train during offseason

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The majority of the Lehigh wrestling team spends its summer in Bethlehem.

But not because the players live there — they stay to work out and condition five or six days a week with Lehigh’s strength staff while also taking classes.

For many teams — including wrestling, softball and lacrosse — the offseason is a vital time of year for athletes to get stronger, faster and more experienced. Different teams have different goals and expectations for their athletes as they prepare for their respective seasons.

Lehigh wrestling, which finished its 2015-16 season at the NCAA Championships with three All-Americans, has a rigorous offseason. The summer is used as a time for the team to bond and have fun with the sport.

“I think absence makes the heart grow fonder so it’s important to take breaks,” redshirt junior Darian Cruz said. “But being here over the summer and just working on the little things helps our team be mentally and physically ready when the season rolls around.”

From stair sprints starting at the Rauch Business Center and ending at Lower Cents to longer runs from Grace Hall all the way to the Bethlehem Star on South Mountain, the wrestlers are pushed to be one of the best-conditioned teams in the country. Lehigh’s strength and conditioning coach Eric Markovcy tracks the team’s progress and makes sure the wrestlers push each other to limits they didn’t think they could reach.

“(Markovcy) took our sport honestly to a level we haven’t had a lot of success in the past with,” Cruz said. “Having Eric (Markovcy) and Dom (Carlineo) help us out for the past year and a half has made a total difference in our game.”

On the mat, wrestlers drill and compete against each other daily, which is simply another form of conditioning that directly involves the sport of wrestling.

Two-a-days, which include an early morning lift before classes and an afternoon practice session, begin once the fall semester starts and continues into the season.

The Lehigh softball team operates differently. Its offseason begins roughly six weeks after its season ends in the spring. The coaches give their players time to decompress and rest their bodies after a long spring season, which can feature 50 or more games.

The rest of the softball players’ summer is spent strength training, conditioning and preparing for what they believe is the most important time of the year: fall ball.

“Over the summer, our coaches and trainers provide a lot of flexibility for our workouts,” senior Vicky Lattanzio said. “We are given a workout packet to follow at home, and for those who remain on campus for the summer, we take advantage of the opportunity to workout with other Lehigh athletes.”

Coach Fran Troyan, who has gone 721-373-6 as Lehigh’s head coach, uses the warmer fall weather to get outside with his team as much as possible because once the weather gets colder and snow falls, practices inside Rauch Fieldhouse become limiting.

“It’s tough to replicate a softball field inside to do what you need to do,” Troyan said. “Our sport is meant to be played outside.”

In the weight room, the team focuses heavily on building strength and power. Through speed training sessions, the team increases their explosiveness and agility, qualities that are crucial in softball.

“We bring a lot of energy to this time of the year and it helps us to stay motivated and get the most out of our lifts and speed training,” Lattanzio said.

Similar to the softball team, the Lehigh women’s lacrosse team takes time to recover after its spring season before getting back to work. For the summer, it is also issued a summer workout program designed by Lehigh’s strength coaches, which includes lifts and conditioning drills to prepare the team for the fall.

The lacrosse team’s fall season consists of three practices per week combined with either a speed training session or lift three days a week. It competes in four tournaments throughout the fall season and once November hits, the team transitions into the speed and strength phase of their offseason.

Senior Julianne D’Orazio’s mom, Cathy D’Orazio, is a certified nutritionist who meets with the team every year to educate the players on the importance of eating right and hydrating before, during and after practices and games.

“For games, my mom will provide the team fruits and other healthy snacks, as well as Gatorade to keep us energized and fueled for the second half,” D’Orazio said.

These three Lehigh teams have their own offseason regiments, but no matter what sport the offseason is not a vacation. It’s a part of the Division I commitment that sometimes goes unnoticed.

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