The Grind Never Stops With Injury Prevention At Oak Hill Academy

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Step into the dog days of a long high school basketball season, the closing stretch, a place only few can truly relate. It's a grind. The aches and pains of a 43-game-and-counting season are starting to show, but the chance to repeat as champions keeps the focus on the prize ahead.

This is not easy, nor a rare circumstance. This is simply life at Oak Hill Academy.

Carrying the DICK'S Sporting Goods Nationals crown can be heavy at times, and the Warriors experienced it throughout the season. And to say everyone on the powerhouse team from Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, feels great physically right now would not be realistic. Yet, a return trip to the elite eight-team tournament on March 30 to April 1 in New York City has been a focus from the first tipoff of the 2016-17 campaign.

One thing that keeps the Warriors at a high level is their attention to detail, especially with injury prevention.

What really goes on in the small southwestern Virginia town of approximately 1,300 people, where the nearest Walmart is 30 minutes away, might always be a mystery to some but not Micah Kurtz. After all, the school's strength and conditioning consultant designs a year-round program that's proven to elevate some of the nation's top players.

So, while the talent and legendary coaching of Steve Smith are shown in the results of a rigorous schedule, including games in 11 states so far this season, Kurtz's passion and dedication to his craft help the Warriors, currently ranked No. 6 in the FloHoops Top 25, to reach even greater heights.

"Basketball is an extremely demanding sport that puts a ton of stress on the body," said Kurtz, who named the National Strength and Conditioning Association's 2016 High School Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year for his work at A.C. Flora (SC) and Oak Hill. "I don't think many people really realize how taxing it is on the body to be constantly running, jumping, landing, starting, stopping, and being able to play defense with that lateral, reactive quickness ability. All of those movements put a lot of stress on the ankles and knees, the hips, the low back."

For modern-day players, there is no break in the action, no time to fully recover. The high school season is one thing. The months following, with the vast majority participating in multiple spring and summer events, is another.

"It's a long season, and there really is no offseason," Kurtz added. "We just have to constantly monitor how they are moving and how they are feeling."

Much like a coach constructing a game plan, Kurtz has his own checklist of core values to accomplish:

Protect the athlete. Move well. Move strong. Move fast. Thrive.
Through research and experience, Kurtz, along with Oak Hill assistant coach Bryan Meagher, who helps implement the program, has found a winning formula.

Instead of measuring only vertical jumps and sprint times, Kurtz uses the ACL Hop and Stop Test to measure the difference in leg strength and power between an athlete's right and left legs and the difference in ability to absorb force. This is to detect any asymmetry, which, with a difference of greater than 10 percent, is much more likely to lead to a knee injury.

Instead of a casual warmup before practices and games, where players might go through the motions, the Dynamic Movement Prep program demands focus to keep the hips and ankles moving properly.

Add in an emphasis on lifting weights during the season for an athlete to be at its strongest when it matters most, and it's easy to understand why Oak Hill is not the typical program. Every high school team lifts weights, but very few have the intensity and dedication of the Warriors.

"All year round, but especially in season, we really focus on the multi-joint exercises, because we want to get the most bang for our time out of them," Kurtz said. "We don't want them in the weight room lifting for 90 minutes when they also have practice."

Using fundamental movement lifts, such as squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, overhead presses, and lunges are favorites of Kurtz to help with range of motion. Emphasizing sleep and nutrition is a constant reminder.

It's all part of the plan.

At this stage, health is everything. Losing a key player, particularly now, can change the course of the game and season.

That's why players such as 2017 Flo40 guards Matt Coleman and Lindell Wigginton have been known to get extra mobility and strength workouts in during gamedays this season. They have been following the program Kurtz designs. They have been looking to enhance their games. They have been getting ready for this moment.

So, if anyone believes only talent wins games, think again.

There is plenty more to it. Everything is calculated. They take care of their bodies so they can garner success, too.

"They don't have that high level of success just because they got a good group of basketball players on the team," Kurtz said. "There's 10 to 15 other high schools in the country that have just as much talent, but I like to think that the guys at Oak Hill are working harder than anybody else in the country."

The grind never stops.

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