It is 6 a.m. on a cool August day and Wichita State women’s basketball players are crawling through the Cessna Stadium grass, flipping tractor tires, throwing 12-pound medicine balls and listening to strength coach Adam Ringler.
“It’s all mental,” Ringler yells as he bounces from station to station. “It’s all neck up. A lot of teams are going to be gunning for you. No quit, no quit, no quit.”
Ringler and the Shockers are up early in August so they can bring a March effort to their November and December games. Coach Jody Adams compiled an imposing non-conference schedule, one that can support an NCAA Tournament at-large campaign, if the Shockers win some of those games.
“Boot camp is all mental,” Adams said. “Usually, you build your team mentally as you go through the year. Our non-conference is so tough, we’ve got to be there, mentally, from the beginning.”
WSU opens against Creighton, which tied for third in the Big East, on Nov. 15 at Koch Arena. It plays Florida Gulf Coast, a 2014 NCAA Tournament team, Ohio State and Clemson on three straight days in the Virgin Islands.
In December, Kansas State visits Koch Arena. Then the Shockers travel to Tennessee, where Adams and assistant coach Bridgette Gordon helped win NCAA titles and Gordon’s jersey hangs from the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena. Winthrop, also a 2014 NCAA team, comes to Koch Arena in late December.
The Shockers also played in the NCAA Tournament last season, losing 62-56 at third-seeded Penn State. WSU led by 11 in the first half and trailed 56-54 in the final minutes in their bid to become the first No. 14 seed to upset a No. 3.
“We’re going to need to be where we were when we played Penn State, or even above that,” WSU senior Kelsey Jacobs said. “The point to all this hard work is not so much physical. It’s more of a mental test to see if we’re going to stop or quit or if we’re going to persevere and push through.”
Adams divided the team into seniors and newcomers vs. sophomores and juniors for boot camp. Ringler and his assistants keep score, awarding points for times and repetitions as well as some subjective points for hustle and grit. In the early days, Adams says the sophomores and juniors lead.
Players run stadium steps and sprint up (returning down slowly to avoid injury) the hill in the north end zone. They perform defensive slides with thick rubber bands around their ankles and carrying 10-pound weights.
“I can run for days,” Jacobs said. “My biggest issue is strength. So the worst is after doing a running or sprinting thing, trying to get in a real deep defensive stance with weights or full body-weight pushups with your chest to the ground is my weakest, with my long arms.”
They compete in jump rope and squat thrusts, wearing white T-shirts with “Outwork” on the back in black letters and grass and dirt stains marking their efforts.
“It’s something we have to do and our non-conference is just like our prep for the NCAAs, to get out of that first round,” junior Alex Harden said. “They’re going to overlook us, and that’s what we’re counting on. We’re going to work hard and play together.”
The Shockers will face a size disadvantage against some of their non-conference opponents. Adams wants to get her edge in the final minutes. She wants the Shockers to play good basketball for more minutes and win with fresh legs, efficiency and execution.
Adams didn’t like the way the Shockers played in 2012 in the Cancun Challenge when they lost to Missouri, Richmond and James Madison. She wants her team to be prepared for playing consecutive days against good teams with different styles. Winning games in the NCAA Tournament will almost always require the Shockers to beat a high seed on their home court, a situation playing at Tennessee mimics.
“We need to win some of those challenging games,” Adams said. “We should be ready, because we’re a veteran group. Early on, if we can fight through some of the fatigue in a game, where they’re not ready to fight through fatigue, then we can close that gap where we’re not as tall as them.”
Worth noting — Freshman guard Anna Khmelevskaya returned to her home in Russia this week due to a family emergency. Adams is unsure when circumstances will allow her to return.… Former Heights and Butler County Community College guard Ashlee Ivy is not on the team this semester due to academic issues. She is taking a class now with the goal of enrolling at WSU for the spring semester. Ivy, Adams said, would not play until the 2015-16 season.