Crummy weather no hit
As anyone not in hibernation knows, the weather has been more than a little redonkculous in Wisconsin this ‘spring.’
And as tough as it has been on the masses, think of the effect on the kids who have spent countless hours prepping themselves for their springs sports seasons.
The tracks teams have suffered little negative effect to this point, although their natural indoor seasons reached their end with last week’s indoor conference meets.
But the baseball, softball, soccer and golf teams have been restricted to places they would never frequent if they weren’t forced to do so. Gymnasiums. Fieldhouses. Cafeterias!
Of course, the coaches and teams know their only recourse is to buck up, make the most of it, while praying fervently for sunshine and heat.
“Well, the only good thing about this weather is that no one is really at an advantage,” MHS girls soccer coach Steph Nelson said. “True, some schools have better indoor facilities or they have multiple community fields that they could practice on when the time comes, but in the long run, we’re all stuck inside more than we’d ever like to be. We’re all in the same boat, or should I say sled, so we’re just trying to make the best of it.”
Making the situation even more bizarre is that fact that last year saw nearly unprecedented warmth and dry fields.
“Isn’t this something?” Baseball coach Brian Artac asked.
“We’ve gone from one extreme to the other. From playing at home for the first time in school history in March–a doubleheader–to the way it’s going we’re not going to play at home in April. I’m already thinking I’m going to have to call some friends down south and see how it is down there.
“I’ve seen years something like this in the past, but we’ve been spoiled for the last 3-4-5 years.”
Softball coach Matt Ellenbecker noted the same contrast.
“Last year I had coaches telling me how lucky I was as a first-year coach to be able to get outside and on a field during the first week of practice,” he said. “I believe things tend to even themselves out over time, but I didn’t expect it to happen quite this soon.
“The weather has been frustrating for everyone involved. From coordinating indoor facility usage with other sports to developing helpful, fun, and competitive practice plans of our own, the weather presents a real challenge to the coaching staff. We have had nine games postponed at this point; our game at SPASH has been postponed three times already, and looking at the upcoming forecast, our new scheduled date this Friday could be in jeopardy.”
The game was bumped up to Tuesday to fit the forecast, but moved to Portage to find a dry diamond.
Keeping practices interesting and valuable is the challenge for coaches.
“For us especially though, it’s been rough trying to work on important (soccer) game strategies,” Nelson said. “Two teams sharing the middle school fieldhouse isn’t easy; we’ve had to coordinate outdoor runs and small little ball work drills so that one team can have the entire field house so we can at least work on some offensive and defensive stuff.
“Set plays are where we’ve done some chalk-talk on, but really, working on them isn’t easy considering our facilities aren’t wide enough to get a real feel for our actual play or defending someone else’s play. But at least the girls get the gist and hopefully when we do finally play, we should be able to put everything together.
Ellenbecker noted, “In order to maintain focused practices, we have shortened practices and taken days off as needed. In the couple days that weather permitted we took the girls outside in the parking lot to field some fly balls and do some defensive work. We have tried to add competitions into practice where we can to keep some competitive juices flowing. The Junior/Senior team is the reigning Dodge Ball champion over the Sophomores and the Freshmen/Coaches team. Still, no matter how much time you have in the cage, in the fieldhouse, or even outside on a parking lot, you will never be ready for a game until you get out on a field.
“While it has been challenging for coaches, the most affected really are the players. They sacrifice their time with family and friends because they want to play softball. The games are a big part of the reward for putting so much time into practice and right now the players haven’t gotten that reward.”
But Ellenbecker praised his kids’ being willing to delay that gratification.
“I am very happy with the overall attitude that our team has maintained through five weeks of indoor practice without games,” he said. “We have six seniors whose last season of high school ball has been full of grey (and white) and gloom, but you wouldn’t guess it when they come to practice each and every day. JoJo Catlin, Lindsay Krueger, Bri LaMonica, Macy Lentz, Casey Steffen and Katie Travis have good reason to feel bitter and upset, but up to this point have come to practice with great attitude and energy which sets the table for the rest of the team. I would imagine teams that lack that kind of positive senior leadership are having an even more challenging go of things this spring.”
Nelson echoed Ellenbecker’s senior lament.
“I mainly just feel sorry for our seniors,” she said. “They worked hard in the off-season and got some of the younger girls on board to do my off-season workout that I designed for them, then they went to so many more open gyms than they have in the past. I just want their hard work to actually pay off. I’m sure everyone is frustrated with just practicing day in and day out, I sure am, but they have been pretty positive at practice and know that at least our skills will be improved and the rest of it will come with time.
“Here’s hoping that we can at least practice outside by next week.”
Artac finally reached his limit late last week.
“I gave them Friday off,” he said. “After 19 straight practices indoors, we weren’t gaining anything. But (Monday) we’ll go back at ’er again.
“If you go out on the black-top, you’re going to ruin every ball you use. The best diamond in town is by the high school and that’s because of the work we put into it in the fall. But right now (Sunday), she’s snow covered.”
There’s no question that games are going to be lost to the impending time crunch.
“A lot of that non-conference schedule that we’re past is probably dead,” Artac said. “We’re already talking double-headers for conference games. I’m kind of against that during the week. You’re down in Rapids or something on a Tuesday night, that’s a long night for kids. Friday isn’t too bad.”
“It is very possible at this point that we won’t play a home game until May,” Ellenbecker said. “Either way, the weather will change, and we will play a lot of ball in May. Our schedule has been in a steady flux and I don’t think anyone could say just what it will look like in the end. We’ll likely lose some non-conference games and have a lot of 4+ game weeks.
“Teams with stronger pitching depth will definitely be better equipped to handle this, but we’ll navigate through that. As a team everyone has been very flexible and willing to do what needs to be done to have success.”
Nelson added, “Schedule-wise I’m not exactly sure what’s going to happen. The AD’s met last week and discussed many options, but they did say that this week was the determining factor with what option we’re going to go with. It may come down to us only playing conference matches and maybe the Antigo tournament.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to have a home game until after May. We had a shovel practice a couple of Fridays ago and the girls may not see it, but I’m glad we did it; we should have less pooling on the field.”
The Bluejay golf team finally found an open course on Tuesday, but it had to travel all the way to Madison to do so. And the weather has now even cancelled a track meet, Friday’s event for the Merrill girls team at D.C. Everest.
Even if things thaw and dry quickly after this week’s impending continued bad weather, theres no doubt that–in the words of Artac–“This is major-league crazy.”
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