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Nov. 18, 2013
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Team building can come in many different ways and it has for the Penn State baseball team during the young tenure of new head coach Rob Cooper. This week Cooper and his staff are taking that team building to the next level prior to Thanksgiving break with the first "Omaha Challenge."
At 5 a.m. each day this week Cooper's team will meet at Holuba Hall or the East Area Locker room and be split into four teams competing against each other in a variety of strength and conditioning challenges.
The name "Omaha Challenge" is set as a motivator for the team's ultimate landing spot, Omaha, Neb., the home of the College World Series.
The overriding goal of this challenge, which Cooper has implemented at other programs, is to come out of it better as a team.
"It's another way to make our guys compete and fight through any limitations that they have and make them dig down and find out a little more about themselves," said Cooper. "There's also an element of them having to work together to win certain events so it's a way to put them in a competitive situation and find a way to come out on top."
Team strength and conditioning coach Jamie Burleson put together challenges for the players to compete in each day with individual and team events. The days range from strongman events, weight lifting challenges and team relay events.
At the end of the week, after Burleson and his team record the results each day, there will be a team and individual winner. Junior outfielder Aaron Novak is looking forward to competing against his teammates.
"It's going to be good to compete against each other and have an opportunity to compete early in the preseason," said Novak. "Although it will be tough, it's a cool chance to see how hard we have to work to get better and be where we want to be when the season gets there."
The competitive nature that will be brought about is a very important part to the early morning competition. Although it may not be desirable to 18-22 year old college student-athletes, the time of the "Omaha Challenge" goes back to Cooper's original mantra when he took the job at Penn State.
He wants his team to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
"That's why it's at 5 a.m.," Cooper said. "It's not that comfortable waking up at 4:30 in the morning making sure you are on time and then having to get yourself in competitive frame of mind.
"In order to be a championship program you have to be with people that are willing to be comfortable being uncomfortable, you have to be willing to adjust to what's going on and be willing to compete."
Telling players that they have to take part in 5 a.m. workouts only makes sense to Cooper if they know why they are doing it. The first year head coach said overall that is how a coach gets players to buy into a program.
"If you're just doing things with no real plan and not educating them as to why you are doing it, then they aren't going to buy in," he said.
Novak has noticed that as a trend from the programs new leaders. Everything they do has a purpose and the "Omaha Challenge" is just another example of something that will only have them in better shape for the regular season.
"We run hills every week and we don't run them just to run them," Novak said. "The coaches tell us we do it because it's hard work. It's not going to make us hit the ball farther or throw harder, it forces us to be mentally tough and we can use that to our advantage."
The Nittany Lions had their first day of the challenge this morning and will continue the challenge throughout the week. Penn State opens the regular season Feb. 14 against Gardner-Webb.