Littlestown girls' basketball seniors Jill Gauthier and Janelle Kress discuss the team's training program and the stereotypes that come with being girls in the weight room. Matt Allibone
The Bolts have become a competitive team the past two seasons while working with trainer Brett Swope
Littlestown girls' basketball coach Chris Myers likes to refer to his team as the "few crew."
That's because the Thunderbolts have only eight players in the entire program, a year after they had nine. According to Myers, that's been about the number of players he's had each season during his five-year tenure.
Those small numbers used to hurt Littlestown on the court. The Bolts didn't win a game in Myers' first season and went a combined 6-58 his first three years at the helm. But the Bolts went a respectable 9-12 overall, 6-6 in Division III last season, and this year they're holding pace at 6-7, 3-3.
What's behind the improvement?
Since the summer of 2015, the Bolts have trained throughout the year with strength and conditioning coach Brett Swope of Elite Sports Performance in New Oxford. Without the luxury of a full bench, Littlestown decided its players had to be as physically fit as possible.
Myers says the move has paid off.
"The gains we’ve made are phenomenal," the head coach said. "It was all about trying to take the program to the next level. And you could see we needed something more than what I was providing. We had to get stronger, quicker, faster. It's made a huge difference."
Myers heard about Swope from Hanover coach Denny Garman, and the team's booster club was able to raise the funds for a trainer. The Bolts work out with Swope three times a week during the offseason and usually once a week during the season, depending on their schedule.
A New Oxford graduate, Swope played football at East Stroudsburg and was previously a strength coach at the University of South Florida. He typically puts the Bolts through a variety of running and weight lifting drills for about 45 minutes before the team's normal practice.
It can be exhausting, but the players love it.
"It goes toward making us better. We're all stronger players because of this," senior Jill Gauthier said. "It helps us with our shooting because we can shoot farther distances. We’ve become better all-around players and with the agility drills we push ourselves to do better."
The exercises are designed to help players avoid injuries and handle playing big minutes every night. While they've grown accustomed to the intensity of the workouts, the players admitted it wasn't easy at first.
In fact, some thought it might be too much for them to handle.
"At first, we would text each other in school and say, 'I’m so sore; I can’t sit down or raise my hand,'" senior Janelle Kress said. "But now we’re not even sore anymore. It’s pretty great.”
Added Gauthier: "After the first one we did, I went home and told my parents, 'That was crazy, I’ve never done anything like that before.' (Swope) gets you in shape.”
Of course, there's a fine line between keeping players in shape and wearing them down. That's why during the season, Swope has the players focus on maintaining their strength instead of trying to increase their muscle mass. And the Bolts also don't lift weights the day before games so their arms aren't too tired to shoot the ball.
"The biggest thing is keeping these players from getting hurt," Swope said. "They don’t have many players. If one goes down, it’s tough. If they can maintain the strength they gained during the offseason, we’ve done our job. If we can increase it a little bit that’s great, but we don’t want to push the issue too much."
Swope trains numerous teams and athletes and makes sure to watch at least some of their games. While he enjoys seeing all of his clients have success, he's taken a lot of pride in watching Littlestown improve.
Having never trained a team with so few players before, the veteran strength coach said it's rewarding to see the Bolts become competitive.
"I'm used to having at least 15 athletes on a team," Swope said. "I see the hard work that (the Bolts) put in during the offseason. So when they win some of the games they’re underdogs in, that tells me we’re doing the right things and headed in the right direction.”
The next step for the Bolts is getting more players to join the program so they can continue to improve. Myers said he thinks the current players' passion for training is a good start.
"It used to be we couldn't get all the girls here (for offseason workouts)," Myers said. "Now that we go to Brett, they truly get upset if we miss a workout. If we go a while without having one, they ask, ‘Coach, when’s Brett coming again? We need one.'”