Every collegiate field hockey team sets out to be stronger and faster at the beginning of each season. But not every team sets the lofty goal of being the best conditioned squad in the nation.

An ambitious Old Dominion team set that objective, and while there is no exact measure whether the Lady Monarchs are the fittest team in the nation this year, their undefeated record and No. 1 national ranking are proof enough that the goal is getting the results they wanted.

While ODU head coach Beth Anders is in her 29th season and has won nine NCAA titles with the program, it was not the veteran mentor who set the goal for the team last winter.  It was the players.

“This team needed to claim ownership of their team,” Anders said. “The girls made this goal themselves. To their credit, they wanted to do this and be as fit as they possibly could.”

The goal was every strength and conditioning coach’s dream.

“I loved to hear that because it changed how they approached it,” the team’s strength and conditioning coach Joe Makovec said. “If they were having a bad day during conditioning, all I had to do was bring that up and it triggered them to focus again and start trying harder. It made my job easier because of their new mind set even though that was my goal anyway. It made it much easier to accomplish that.”

If our body doesn't fail us, we can maintain our mental focus on the game.
-- ODU captain Julie Hodge

Makovec focused on drills to improve the squad’s speed, and exercises designed to keep their feet moving. Overall, the team got quicker, and their change of direction definitely improved.

“We started doing conditioning tests on the treadmill and the results were much better than I expected,” Makovec said. “I think we’re in better condition than we were last year. When I go to the games, if I see somebody being dramatic about how tired they are, I let them know about it all the next week.”

“Even if things aren’t going well in a game, if you have your fitness training to fall back on, things will eventually go your well,” junior captain Julie Hodge said.  “Our whole team wanted to do it and we attacked that goal.  Whenever we are in the weight room or conditioning on the field, we want to be better than the person that is next to us because we are all competitive.  It makes us push ourselves.”

Anders has been very pleased with the Lady Monarchs’ progress, and the players are seeing the fruits of their hard work on the field every day.

“(Joe) is unbelievable and he has really done wonders with these girls,” Anders said. “He challenges them and talks to them. He knows about competition and what it takes for these girls to get in condition.”

“If our body doesn’t fail us, we can maintain our mental focus on the game,” Hodge said. “It makes it more fun because you’re not keeled over, and there are fewer injuries, which is always good.”

Being the fittest team in the nation is just one of several goals ODU set this season as the squad tries to return to national prominence. Anders took her first 26 teams to the NCAA tournament, but the program missed out in 2008 and 2009 after posting losing records for the first time in school history. ODU has won the most NCAA championships of any school with nine, but the program has not won a title since 2000. Last year, the Lady Monarchs advanced to the NCAA postseason after winning their first Colonial Athletic Association title since 2005, and they are looking to improve on that this season.

“We’ve all worked to bring back the winning culture,” Hodge said. “If you look back at Old Dominion’s statistics and results over the last few years, I guess you could say we’ve been in a slump.  We’ve had a lot of players and people help fight to get it back where it used to be, and we’re still going through that fight.”

Statistically, ODU has made huge strides. The Lady Monarchs are averaging more than one goal per game than last season (3.65 compared to 2.51 in 2010), and the team’s defense ranks second in the nation with a 0.81 goal against average, a marked improvement from last year’s 1.97 GAA. 

“We’ve been working at this for two or three years, and it was really last year’s team that has provided this opportunity for this team,” Anders said. “Last year’s team worked hard, too. It’s amazing to me that all of a sudden we are winning and what we’re doing is right. We did this last year, too. They set an attitude for this team to develop. Our team’s next step was to claim ownership.”

The Lady Monarchs’ journey has not been an easy one this season as they are playing top competition practically every week. Undefeated ODU has notched victories over seven top 10 teams, including two squads that were ranked No. 1 at the time. The Lady Monarchs are 4-0 against the mighty Atlantic Coast Conference this season as well.

“All the teams are paying so hard against us, and every game we play, it doesn’t matter who we play, it is a difficult game,” Anders said. “They’re firing all engines at us, and they’re good. I definitely can see the conditioning paying off. It’s a hard fight for 70 minutes. It’s a very positive thing that has happened.”

“We want to keep showing that we can be consistent and bring back the Old Dominion tradition,” Hodge said. “In the past, we weren’t always fighting. We want to turn that all around … everybody all together.”