Sprint workouts adding speed for Virginia lacrosse

CHARLOTTESVILLE – Two years ago, Lars Tiffany wanted to increase his lacrosse team’s speed. The Virginia coach had read about the impact sprint workouts could have on athletes in other sports, and he was intrigued.

“It spurred the idea that, I think we have speed experts right here on grounds,” Tiffany said this week. “I think we have them right down the hallway. Let me go talk to someone who, himself, is really fast and teaches other people to be faster.”

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So, for the past two falls, UVa lacrosse has turned to the school’s sprinting coach, LaRon Bennett, for help getting faster.

Bennett, a three-time All-American in the 400-meter hurdles from 2003-2005, has coached at Drake, Bellhaven and Georgia, his alma mater. During that time, he’s helped cross train athletes from a wide variety of sports, including baseball, basketball, football, volleyball and even swimming.

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“Most sports, especially ones that have any kind of running component, there’s always going to be that baseline of track and field. The speed. The power. The endurance,” Bennett said. “I look at what we do in our events and then I give a simpler version of that to whatever the other sport is.”

For example, a 40-yard dash for a football player or running the bases for a baseball player equate clearly to the drive phase of a 100-meter dash for a track sprinter.

But lacrosse presented a unique challenge for Bennett.

“The biggest thing with lacrosse was, they run predominantly without their arms, because they have the stick,” he said.

So, after meeting with Tiffany a few times over a week in the fall of 2022 and watching video of the Cavaliers running up and down the lacrosse field, Bennett formulated a plan.

He taught Tiffany’s players a modified track and field warmup, gave them pointers on proper running technique and then put them through a wickets drill, essentially mini hurdles.

“That’s one of the quickest ways you can correct and enhance an athlete’s running form,” Bennett said. “In under 30 minutes, their form had almost done a 180.”

Bennett’s workouts aren’t grueling. The lacrosse team already has its ways to build up stamina. Bennett’s work is focused on learning and maintaining good form to maximize speed. And the Cavaliers said they’ve enjoyed their time with him.

“Guys just love the energy he brought. It was kind of a good change up in the fall when practice was kind of repetitive,” said senior star attackman Connor Shellenberger. “Just the amount of information he’s able to teach us in those 15-30 minutes is crazy. You’re not gassed after them, but we get a lot done.”

Midfielder Griffin Schutz actually has been thinking about adding speed to his game for a few years now, ever since his high school shooting coach started running the indoor track program at the prep school where he coaches lacrosse.

Schutz’s offseason workouts began to incorporate sprint training, so he was ready and eager to see what Bennett brought to the Cavaliers.

“A lot of lacrosse players don’t have that sprinter background,” Schutz said. “If you get your legs turning and your core tight, the lacrosse stick doesn’t make too much of a difference. We took it from the base level. Now it’s just a part of us.”

For Tiffany, getting faster isn’t exclusively about running. He wants to see quicker decision making, faster hands and, yes, of course, increased footspeed.

“Big and strong is sexy but quick and fast is deadly,” Tiffany said. “We needed to be quicker and faster.”

This week, in preparation for the No. 3-ranked Cavaliers’ season opener Saturday against No. 11 Michigan, Tiffany and his staff have dialed back the physicality some in favor of emphasizing those speed gains.

Virginia ended last year with a national semifinal loss to Notre Dame, a game it led by two goals with under nine minutes to play, against an opponent it had beaten twice during the regular season.

Being so painfully close to the national championship game left players, including Shellenberger and Schutz, looking for any little edge to get them over the top this year. And that has prompted an increased focus on their running form.

“Whatever the 1% difference can be for us, to make us a little faster, a little more efficient, a little quicker in and out of our dodges,” Shellenberger said. “Whatever that advantage can be is beneficial.”

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