Local teams improvise as weather limits practice options
Any given March in Midwest
Before assists can trigger double plays on the diamond or set up breathtaking goals on the pitch, Sauk Valley athletes need some assistance from Mother Nature.
After just a handful of games were canceled or postponed last spring, the number of games washed away could be matched by the end of March this go-round.
According to weather.gov, the sun could make multiple appearances over the next few days, but – for the moment – Monday's forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of snow showers. The best recipe for snow removal is sunshine and wind.
In the meantime, coaches are doing their best with what they have got. Before hitting The Cage in downtown Morrison on Monday, the Mustangs enjoyed some long toss in the parking lots behind the middle school.
"Hey, we were throwing a baseball outside," Morrison baseball coach Ben Sondgeroth said. "We got to throw more than 90 feet today. It was cold, but it was good."
One can only take so many drills on hardwood.
"We are starting to get Cabin Fever," Bureau Valley coach John Matlick admitted. "It's difficult to assess the outfielders, when we are limited to what drills we can do with them."
"We can drill work them to death, but actually reading a ball off a bat is impossible to simulate," Erie-Prophetstown coach Jason Orman said.
It's not as simple as, once the snow is gone, play can begin. Playing on a diamond that is still frozen under the surface is hazardous. And, even as the freeze subsides, drainage is an issue.
"Now the problem will be how saturated it will be once the snow is gone," said Oregon coach Adam Albrecht, whose team first received uniforms Thursday. "I don't really know a timeframe, but hopefully soon."
During Morrison's practice Monday evening, Sondgeroth optimistically looked toward a New-Mor-Roc-Ster game in Rock Falls as a potential season opener. Later that night, Rockets skipper Donnie Chappell politely dissented and looked further down the timeline.
"We're looking at March 25, hopefully," said Chappell. The Rockets, who have one of the faster-drying complexes in the area, are slated to host Freeport that night. "If this goes on for weeks, we'll have to get creative."
"We have to improvise practice plans so that athletes don't become indoor zombies," Amboy coach Chris Newsome said.
Even with the nickname of Clippers, the view of Parker Field can be depressing.
"As of right now, it's Parker Lake," Newsome said.
Teams stack the front end of their conference schedule to account for this sort of scenario. In some cases, conference play gets under way the week of March 25.
As recently as Thursday night, even the Sterling girls soccer team was practicing at Musgrove Fieldhouse, despite the state-of-the-art artificial turf that makes the field at Roscoe Eades Stadium the most resilient surface in the area.
"Hoping tomorrow will be our first day," Sterling soccer coach Brian Cebula said. "We need to get in a practice outside before our first game ... which is Monday."
Cebula is optimistic, as there was little snow on the turf Thursday night, and the forecast calls for temperatures in the low-40s this afternoon.
Most early season tennis meets are hosted by schools that can move the event indoors, while track predominantly remains indoors until mid-April.
Pragmatically, the delay has given many coaches extra time to work on some often-overlooked fundamentals, as well as some extra time to evaluate, for those teams whose numbers call for cuts.
"We usually make cuts after 3 days; this year, we took 2 weeks to do it," Sterling softball coach Rick Henderson said. "It's helped us kind of wade through the deep talent pool, really evaluate who we had and where they'll play."
In Lanark, Weston Burkholder is also grateful for the grace period, with three of his Cougars – Ty and Devin Hartman and Marshall Fink – having just wrapped up their hoops season last weekend.
"A wet spring might help us a little and allow us to get the whole team together longer, before we hit the ground running," Burkholder said.
A year ago, some teams had more than a dozen outdoor practices under their belt by now. Their fans had already started working on their tans while taking in a ballgame.
Welcome to the Midwest, where any given March can present something different.
"If I was a younger coach, I'd probably have ulcers right now," Henderson said. "But as a veteran coach, I've seen this type of thing before, and you just roll with it."
Week 1 toll
Number of games cancelled or postponed through today
Baseball – 6
Softball – 8
Soccer – 1
SVM staffers are restless, too. Read all about it at saukvalley.com/blogs/extra-extra