Weighting for wins

YSU hopes improved training leads to success

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Youngstown State men’s basketball player Michael Akuchie lifts during a recent weight room session.

YOUNGSTOWN — Michael Akuchie lifted the dumbbell as best he could, steadying his weight on a steady surface.

The heavy implement was part of the 6-foot-8 freshman’s weight training.

Even though he’s gained six pounds in the month he’s been on the Youngstown State University campus, the YSU men’s basketball player knows assistant strength and conditioning coach Jake Tuura isn’t there to make him a body builder.

In fact, the Florida native is there to be one of those well-rounded athletes.

“That’s what he does,” Akuchie said. “Workouts are basketball based. Helping us jump higher, get faster. Loosen up our hips, get better defensively.”

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Youngstown State assistant strength and conditioning coach Jake Tuura, left, looks on as YSU women’s basketball players, from left, Alison Smolinski, Nikki Arbanas and Melinda Trimmer, do lunges.

You see, Tuura wasn’t always a strength and conditioning coach. Basketball was always in his path, something the 26-year-old has done prior to studying at Wisconsin-Superior — near his hometown in the upper northwest part of Wisconsin — early in his college career. Patellar tendonitis plagued the budding strength coach.

“I really had no purpose in my life,” Tuura said. “I didn’t know what I was doing. The weights became my purpose, just lifting to get stronger and bigger.”

He started to work with high school athletes, interned at the University of Minnesota, volunteered his time at Wisconsin-Superior, and had been at the University of Minnesota-Duluth the last two years before coming to YSU.

Penguins men’s basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun campaigned for Tuura, impressed with his interview, passion and energy.

“I think he’s a young, up and coming guy that brings energy, passion and enjoys what he’s doing,” Calhoun said. “Relates to the kids.”

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo YSU men’s basketball player Cameron Morse walks with a weight during a recent training session.

Now the strength coaches, Tuura and trainer Todd Burkey, play an instrumental role in the basketball team during the summer. The NCAA limits how much time Calhoun and his staff can work with the team.

Tuura and Burkey have to take an active role to instruct the men’s team, in the weight room and out.

Walks with heavy weights, swimming and sand volleyball with a medicine ball have been part of YSU’s training with Tuura and Burkey.

Calhoun said he’s noticed some changes in his players in the short time Tuura has worked with his team, which is adapting to Calhoun’s system, an up-tempo game on offense and defense. That demands a deeper bench than in year’s past.

“They’ve gotten stronger,” Calhoun said. “Strength is very, very crucial. Making sure guys are healthy, able to be on the floor. Injury prevention is No. 1.

“You want guys to be flexible the way we play.”

Nikki Arbanas had no flexibility after she went out with an ACL tear in the YSU women’s team’s first practice of the 2016-17 season. It benched her and led to a medical redshirt, giving the shooting guard two seasons left with the Penguins.

“I think I’m moving at the right pace and I think I’ll be ready to go by the time I need to be on Nov. 10,” Arbanas said.

Tuura also trains those athletes in the women’s soccer and golf programs. His approach doesn’t change because of the sport. It’s based on the specific athlete.

“Sports coaches would like to say you’re very sports specific,” Tuura said. “All athletes are doing the same thing from a strength coach’s perspective.

“We’re trying to prevent common injuries and enhance basic abilities to jump higher, sprint faster, change direction better. React to certain stimulus.”

The women’s team has been concentrating on squats, hinges, push and pulls — along with picking up heavy weights and walking with them.

They do movement patterns when they sprint and cut — doing things to prevent injuries.

Nothing could’ve prevented Arbanas’ injury, which was a contact one.

“He’s really good at being respectful of the fact that I just had an injury,” Arbanas said. “He has been helping with (trainer) Sarah (Sydor) and understands where I’ve been in the process and able to everything the team does.”

The guys had less than an hour aerobic workout before the intense weight training, while the girls start this week.

Protein shakes and designated meals are protocol for the men’s team to go with the weight training.

“They both have to coexist. I feel Jake has done a great job,” Calhoun said.

Akuchie saw his progress as well.

“I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was,” Akuchie said. “He pushed us to do a lot of stuff. It really showed, I was a lot stronger than I thought I was.”