New ladybears coach

Lady Bears director of athletic performance Jeremy Heffner (left) said his top priority is making sure the Baylor women’s basketball players are fresh and ready to go when preseason practice starts in October.

Baylor women’s basketball director of athletic performance Jeremy Heffner knows how his job is perceived.

He’s supposed to be the guy that relentlessly pushes elite athletes to reach their peak physique and performance. According to every sports drink commercial and many players’ Twitter feeds, the offseason means grind time, so Heffner is meant to be the guy yelling and screaming and making that happen.

But Heffner, who came back to the Baylor women’s basketball program this June after two years away, has been around enough great Lady Bears teams to know there’s quite a bit of nuance to getting them ready for the start of the season.

Baylor’s season was a week longer than all but three other teams. Then, after the Lady Bears won the national championship, they were invited to the White House and the Texas Capitol and the ESPYs. So it would be a mistake to approach summer as a time to push the players to their limit.

“Getting it right is not the grind,” Heffner said. “That is what they don’t need. When everybody else was home in May, they were at the White House, they were at the State Capitol. There’s a lot of extra emotional stress, travel stress that they’ve put on their bodies. It takes a long time for that to go away. If we don’t take that into account, we’re going to run them into the ground.”

That’s the value of the experience that Heffner brings back to Baylor. He originally came to the Lady Bears from Georgia following the 2010 season when the Lady Bears had just reached the Final Four. He was the strength coach throughout Baylor’s 40-0 national championship campaign in 2012.

New ladybears coach

Lady Bears director of athletic performance Jeremy Heffner sets up a baseball diamond on Baylor’s practice court on Wednesday.

And although Heffner spent the last two school years as the head strength and conditioning coach at Tyler Lee High School, he returned in June to find the Lady Bears in familiar circumstances.

That’s why, every now and then, the team will play Wiffle ball instead of running gassers. That’s how things played out on Wednesday afternoon.

“Everybody just crushed the weight workout,” Heffner said about the way the Wednesday workout unfolded. “I probably got the best effort I’ve gotten all summer. In this field, you have to learn that the first step off the peak is straight down. We crushed it and I didn’t want to go in there and take a chance of ruining a great time.”

Instead the Lady Bears did a little running around the bases and a lot of laughing and just enjoying the end of the day of work.

New ladybears coach

Baylor director of athletic performance Jeremy Heffner gives game instructions to sophomore forward Caitlin Bickle .

Even the Wiffle ball game showed off the team’s athleticism. Heffner worked with many of Baylor’s all-time greats during his first stint with the Lady Bears. But the defending national champions that will take the court for the 2019-2020 season include a whole bunch of players with the speed, length and strength to play any position on the floor.

“This is the most athletic team, I’ve ever worked with from top to bottom,” Heffner said. “Granted we had Brittney Griner in the past and she’s one of the best athletes that I’ve ever been around. But from top to bottom, from the first person to the 13th person, these are the best athletes. They can do anything I ask them to.”

Heffner’s summer plan has work and rest mixed together. As the start of practice in the fall gets closer, he will turn up the intensity.

But it’s not a flex. It’s a plan. Heffner’s goal is to have the team ready when Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey takes over.

“In October, they’ve got to be fresh and they’ve got to be ready to go,” Heffner said. “They’ve got to be chomping at the bit to get on the court. You can’t do that if you run them in the ground in August. And then (Mulkey) knows what to do once she gets her hands on them.”

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