Two seasons ago, Brynn Williamson, Kidd Blaskowsky, Elly Arganbright and Hallie Christofferson arrived to the Sukup facility about 6 a.m. for their routine morning workout. This time, though, the car they always saw sitting in the parking lot was nowhere to be found.
All four of the women’s basketball team members wondered what was going on while agreeing that this was extremely unusual. The feeling of dread and confusion immediately turned into laughter, though, when they called Pete Link, strength and conditioning coordinator for the women’s basketball team, and heard the sound of panic over the phone from the man who is always 20 minutes early.
“Link is early to every workout, so when our lifting group saw that he was not inside already waiting for us, we were shocked,” Williamson said. “Link is early to everything, so he told us we could pick a workout for him being late. We made him do step-ups along with everything else he always made us do, and he did it with no questions asked.”
Link has not been late to a workout since. Regardless if that is because he fears his athletes picking another workout for him again or not, Link is one of the key factors to the Cyclone women’s success.
“When people look at our success and wonder what things have gone into where we are, we all know Link is a huge part of that,” said Williamson, a senior who plays both guard and forward.
Before Link, the men’s and women’s team would share a strength and conditioning coordinator. Often, that resulted in the women’s team being on their own for workouts if the men’s team was on the road.
“It has been extremely nice to have [Link] here these past couple years and now into my senior year,” Williamson said. “His sole purpose is to get the women’s basketball program better, faster and stronger.
“Before [Link], we would have some freedom here and there if [Andrew Moser, men’s basketball strength and conditioning coach] was gone, and you’re really able to see how much more athletic we are over these couple years due to [Link],” she said.
Before focusing on the women’s basketball team, Link served as Iowa State’s assistant strength and conditioning director for Olympic sports, where he worked with the volleyball, softball, tennis and swimming and diving programs. While working with those programs, the volleyball team advanced to the Elite Eight in 2011, and the softball team saw a pair of players break the school record for career home runs.
“The biggest thing is allowing the girls to have a strength and conditioning coach around them all the time,” Link said. “Travel-wise and at every practice is a big piece of what a strength and conditioning coach does.”
Link said one of the most important parts of his job is getting the women ready for a game, not just in the days leading up to the game but the day of the game in the time leading up to the start of the game. Since his arrival, the Cyclone women are 45-10 with two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
“It is definitely an honor, especially to work for [head women’s basketball coach Bill] Fennelly,” Link said. “He has been here for 20 years and runs a great program.”
Fennelly said Link’s contributions to the players’ development is essential to the team’s success.
“Coach Link has been a major addition to our staff,” Fennelly said. “His expertise and daily involvement with our players is critical to our success.”
Link is one of only eight full-time strength and conditioning coaches with the sole focus on women’s basketball in the NCAA, but he does not think the group will remain that small for too much longer.
“It is kind of cool to be one of the first because I think this field is going to continue to gain more coaches, and in women’s basketball, specifically, you will start to see more positions like mine, which is good for the sport and athletes,” Link said. “It’s only going to help them perform better on the court and hopefully be a small piece in raising the total ability of women’s basketball players.”
A strength and conditioning coach becomes much more to the athletes than just someone who is making them faster and stronger. Link is the person who ends up joking with the players on a daily basis, strengthening a bond that can become a love-hate relationship.
“Some days we hate coming in early and seeing him because we know he is going to push us as hard as we can,” Williamson said. “He can be the toughest guy in the gym, and then he can be the only guy you want to talk to because he’s so relaxed.
“He understands all of us and listens and talks to us sometimes more as a friend rather than a coach,” Williamson said. “He is really good at individualizing what each of us do and care about.”
As a strength coach, that just becomes part of the job, especially in the offseason. Link is around the players more than any other coach, and without becoming a part of their lives, it would be impossible to keep them interested in the continuous morning workouts.
“When they come in, I try to talk to them about different things,” Link said. “Most of the time they are just simple things that don’t have anything to do with what we are doing that day to keep them rolling -- just talking about different shows that I know they watch or if they have a favorite sports team.
“I know Brynn’s a Kansas City fan so we would talk about the Royals,” he said.
Link knows there is more to his job than just teaching and demanding in the weight room. He understands that he must become invested in their lives to see results, but that’s just the kind of person he is.
“He is one of those people where you’re never scared to walk into their office and have a conversation with,” Williamson said. “You feel like you’re talking to one of your friends, and that is what makes Link so great.”