Occasionally, forward Stephanie Mavunga practices in a hoodie to sweat more. While doing so, Mavunga said she’s often wondered: “How in the heck did I play with this extra weight last year?”

Mavunga emphasized nutrition and conditioning in the offseason, dropping weight and adding muscle in preparation for her senior season at Ohio State.

Mavunga’s new and improved form will not only be a key Friday for the Buckeyes in their regular-season opener against Stanford at St. John Arena, it will be crucial throughout the entire season. With only nine scholarship players and limited forward depth on the roster, Mavunga will be called upon to play big minutes.

This wasn’t a mandate from above. No coaches required her to do this. This was all Mavunga.

“She’s gotten in the best shape of her life,” coach Kevin McGuff said. “She’s really taken her physical stature to another level. I’ve actually never been around a player, in over 20 years coaching, who’s done more in terms of her diet to change her body. She’s really getting up and down the floor and doing a wonderful job right now.”

Mavunga, who said she has become a cooking enthusiast, started her transformation after last season’s graduation and was strict in the early stages. Fried chicken was supplanted with roasted chicken, salmon or turkey. Mac and cheese was replaced with zucchini noodles. No more pizza or desserts and more vegetables and fruits. Larger meals were swapped with smaller meals planned periodically throughout the day.

Along the way, cooking became a hobby.

“It’s fun,” Mavunga said. “I actually like the foods that I make. It’s fun eating healthy and finding new, different things and broadening your taste buds, and figure out what you can do with different vegetables.”

Mavunga’s fitness renaissance could play to Ohio State’s advantage, especially early. McGuff said that the starting lineup for their exhibition games, which included four guards — Kelsey Mitchell, Linnae Harper, Asia Doss and Sierra Calhoun — and Mavunga, will be the one he will roll out in the early season.

Surrounded by four guards who can push the pace, there’s no choice but to get up and down the court.

What’s more, senior forward Alexa Hart is still recovering from a sprained right ankle that kept her out for Ohio State’s first exhibition against Ashland and can’t contribute big minutes as she gets back into shape.

Mavunga is expected to play the lion’s share of the minutes early. But after focusing on what appeared on her plate this offseason, she’s more equipped to do so.

“It’s just kind of nice,” Mavunga said. "I just get up the floor and I’m like, ‘Dang, I can kind of run.’ (I) feel so much better.”