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Georgia players fight to push the ball to the other side of the net. The University of Georgia volleyball team faced off against Tennessee to win by a score of 3-1 on Oct. 4, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com)

While the solid start for Georgia volleyball on the court in the third season under head coach Tom Black has been exciting for fans, match days at Stegeman Coliseum only tell half of the story. 

For all of the preparation that goes into gameday, the off-court processes of strength and conditioning, training and recovery often go unsung. But they represent some of the biggest parts of the team’s success. 

Volleyball is a sport that puts a lot of torque on various areas of the body. From frequent jumping, to the swing of the arm to make contact with the ball, as well as squatting or diving to dig the ball, the recovery process for volleyball is critical and diverse. 

“It varies [from] athlete to athlete. Everybody has their own routine for feeling better,” Georgia volleyball athletic trainer Jubilee Herrs said. “Ice baths, foam rolling, stretching — it’s all-encompassing when recovering from a hard workout.”

The most common injuries faced by athletes is the ankle sprain, but volleyball also presents its own specific challenges for training staff, given the level and type of movement the sport requires. 

“We get a lot of knee [pain], like patellar tendinitis and lower back pain. [Volleyball] puts a lot of torque on the body without a doubt,” Herrs said. “If you look at the swing, all the way through your thoracic spine, you’re getting a ton of torque, and a lot of the blocking tends to be very one-sided because they take off on one leg and land on the other to reach as far as they can, which creates unilateral-sided pain due to overuse.” 

Even beyond the generalities of volleyball recovery, training staff must be prepared to tailor rest and rehabilitation routines to each position, which presents unique challenges in its own right. 

“An outside hitter will recover differently than a libero,” Herrs said. “A libero tends to do a lot more diving, so they will get more low back pain … Whereas an outside hitter with a lot of jumps and repetitive movement going through transition tends to focus more on leg recovery, so they can have fresh legs and be ready to go for the next match.” 

Rest and recovery is a massive part of volleyball that fans do not always discuss, but another key factor in getting the team ready for match day is strength and conditioning, in both the offseason and during the campaign itself. 

Sean Hayes is the assistant director of strength and conditioning for Olympic sports and has been at Georgia since 2010 to oversee the strength and conditioning for both men’s basketball and women’s volleyball. His resume includes a tenure with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, Clemson men’s and women’s basketball, as well as being the first full-time director of strength and conditioning for all 41 varsity sports at Harvard University. 

Hayes programs for each athlete specifically, focusing on maximizing their physical capability in order to get peak performances during the season. 

“In the preseason, we really focus on a lot of strength, control and power work,” Hayes said. “We use force plates, a part of sports science, and it gives us readings of three different variables: load, explode, and drive. We’re able to see what the ladies are deficient in and [program] from there.” 

Another key aspect of training during the season is balancing a strength and conditioning routine while also preventing injuries and keeping the athletes fresh for match day. 

“Transitioning to the season, it’s about maintaining that strength and power,” Hayes said. “[This season] we have maintained very well on strength and power. We don’t want high volume, we’re looking to maintain our strength and power gains, which requires low-volume, high-intensity [training].” 

Even beyond the maintenance of offseason development, the main challenge posed by a grueling volleyball schedule with regard to training involves travel and the frequency of games. 

“The hard thing is the practice and the travel and how it meshes together so that the team peaks at the right time,” Hayes said. “The ebbs and flows of the season are really the challenges, not necessarily the programming and working with the team. That’s the fun part.”  

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