As winter drags on past its scheduled closing date, spring sports teams are itching to get outside and begin competing
DELANO — Supposedly, the winter sports season concluded March 24, when Cretin-Derham Hall defeated Apple Valley for the Class AAAA boys basketball championship.
A look outside during the four weeks since Cretin-Derham Hall’s Daniel Oturi slammed the ball through at the buzzer might convince the brain otherwise, that winter is still here in full force.
Still waiting for spring to spring through are thousands of athletes around the state of Minnesota, including those who make up the 10 spring teams at Delano High School.
“With this last storm, this is the worst I’ve seen in 31 years. We’ve never had this much snow,” said Delano Activities Director Mike Lindquist, who was previously a track coach at the school. “With the wind and the amount of drifting and the cold temperatures at night, nothing is melting.”
The spring season officially began at Delano before the winter season wrapped, as the softball and track and field teams opened practice March 12, and the baseball and golf teams started March 19. Boys tennis began March 26 and practices for the two lacrosse teams began April 2.
As expected, those early weeks were spent indoors at the Tiger Activity Center, the wrestling room, the old high school gymnasium, the elementary school gymnasium, and at the Delano Area Sports Arena. Not expected is the fact that these locations are where these teams remain, more than a month after they began, for some.
“We have been outside for two practices and one meet. We are in week 6 of practice,” said boys track and field coach Mitch Rue. “I’ve never had a spring like this in my career in Delano, but I guess we are getting a taste of what schools in northern Minnesota deal with nearly every spring.”
Baseball coach Jeff Olson remembers a similar spring.
“It’s definitely one of the most challenging. I can’t recall a year where we have been able to get outside so little at this point in the season,” said Olson. “In 2013, however, we played our first game on April 30. So, this year is not unprecedented.”
Olson’s baseball team went outside one time so far, to work on defensive drills in the parking lot behind the high school.
The only thing a team can do while inside is keep working.
“There are many areas of the game of baseball to work at,” he said. “We are doing our best to keep getting better in all the areas that we can.”
Those who have ever played a spring sport in Minnesota, though, know that fielding ground balls at the free throw line, hitting golf balls into a net, and running sprints on the hardwood get old really fast.
The best way to deal with the weather is to just deal with the weather.
The first time the two lacrosse teams ventured outside in their uniforms was last week for team pictures. The girls have not been out since. The Tiger boys attempted to practice outside a day later, but, as if they were caught sneaking out, an angry Mother Nature quickly shooed them back indoors.
“We got outside last Friday for the first time, then it started hailing minutes after we stepped onto the field,” said coach Aaron Hagerdorn. “We tried to power through, but it didn’t let up and we had to retreat inside. That was the only few minutes we’ve had.”
The lacrosse teams are fortunate to have the arena, which is carpeted with synthetic turf, but being inside is less than ideal.
“We are trying to change up practice routines, but time and space is very limited,” said Hagerdorn. “We play different games, work scenarios, do different drills, and watch film, but there is only so much you can do in a rink, and I am running out of ideas.”
The size of the surface inside the arena is dwarfed by the size of an actual lacrosse pitch.
“The most frustrating part of practices inside is trying to teach new defensive and offensive tactics on a space one-fourth the size of a traditional lacrosse field,” said first-year girls lacrosse coach Mindy Evers. “But we are very lucky to have the rink. Most teams are on a basketball court.”
She may not be able to teach strategies and formations the way she wants, so Evers is making sure her girls will definitely be physically ready when game time finally arrives.
“We have been trying to incorporate high-intensity interval training into our practices, with the hope that, physically, we will be able to compete on the field. And, hopefully, outrun our opponents,” she said.
Boys tennis coach Jacob Olson was hoping to get a lot more use out of the new courts that were added. But that has not been the case, as the Tigers have had just a handful of outside practices.
“It’s hard to get a routine going and develop skills like we would like,” he said. “It’s been hard to get challenge matches in with limited time outside.
“This is the roughest start I can recall in my years of coaching. We’ve had cold ones, but the snow is on another level this season.”
The postseason is only a month away for the tennis team.
“It will just be some busy weeks ahead,” said Olson, the tennis coach.
Warmer weather with snow-melting sunshine has been forecasted for this weekend, so the courts and playing fields should soon turn from white to green. That doesn’t mean all the fields will be ready for competition.
The lacrosse and track and field teams should be able to get outside on their fields much sooner.
“When we get the green showing or the black on the track, (the thaw) will go fast,” said Lindquist, referring to the synthetic fields.
But not fast enough.
“It is very frustrating. We have brand new facilities, which we can’t use unless they are clear. We already have a very short season and this is making it even shorter,” said Hagerdorn. “We won’t even get onto a full-sized field before our first games. That makes it very hard to put a fully-prepared team on the field, especially when we start right off playing conference games. And I feel very bad for the seniors who have been looking forward to this season for three years.”
The synthetic surfaces on the lacrosse fields at Delano may mean the campus will host more games than originally scheduled.
“For both boys and girls away games that are played on grass, they will be moved to home games,” said Evers. “So, having the turf fields is great for the kids.”
In an attempt to get games played, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) has granted the softball and baseball coaches permission to play double-headers of five-inning games.
For Olson and the baseball team, the plan is to avoid going overboard with just games.
“It’s simply fitting as many games as we can into the remainder of the season,” he said. “It’s got to be within reason though; allowing enough practice time throughout, as well.”
Conference games are top priorities.
Steady sunshine will do wonders for the softball and baseball fields. Typically, golf courses need more time so crews can make them playable.
“It is getting frustrating, especially not knowing when we will actually be able to get outside,” said boys golf coach Jon Moen.
Moen’s boys share the wrestling room with coach Jackie Johnson’s girls team.
“The biggest frustration looms from trying to keep kids focused. It’s tough. There isn’t a lot you can really do for golf to keep them engaged when your practice area consists of a small area where you can’t hit balls farther than 3 feet into a net. It’s hard to feel out anything,” Johnson explained. “And so, kids get tired and bored. I’ve tried to give them days off and time to go find indoor ranges, so some girls have gone to do that.”
The frustration over being inside spilled over Monday afternoon for the girls golf team. The players were instructed by coach Johnson to wear their winter boots, hats, gloves, and jackets to practice, which consisted of nine holes of snow golf.
As for competitive meets, Johnson doesn’t know what will happen until it happens.
“I think there really isn’t a plan for golf right now. Honestly, it’s going to be awhile, and, until we know for sure that the snow is gone, we can’t plan,” she said. “I would guess that we will just have to either combine matches and play 18 holes or just play a bunch of 9-hole matches in a few short weeks that we will have. We will see what happens with courses openings.”
When the golf courses — Baker National for the girls and Pioneer Creek for the boys — are deemed ready for play, the issue of demand for tee times and accessibility may be a problem the high school teams will have to deal with.
“When it comes to the golf courses, we have no control over them at all,” said Lindquist. “We might not be on a golf course for another 20 days. Then everybody wants to get out on them. You compete with multiple schools, leagues, and members.”
Cramming as many meets into a single week is not ideal.
“How many days can you golf without affecting academics?” Lindquist questioned.
The one team not affected by the snow is the trapshooting Tigers, who have had only one practice cancelled due to the school closing.
“Normally, we will shoot in the snow or rain; only stopping because of thunder and lighting,” said coach John McClay. “The team handles it well. Some shooters shoot better in adverse weather. The concentration level is higher, making them better focused on the target. Making higher scores.”
The number of teams still restricted to practicing indoors also creates a logistics problem, with the coaches from each sport having to orchestrate practice times.
“We are fortunate to have a facility like the TAC to use, and all spring coaches really work well together to share the facility,” said Rue. “Practices have been shorter due to sharing facilities, but I feel like the shorter practice time has actually helped keep things fresh and efficient in practice.”
The entire high school building has become a training ground for the track teams.
“We have stairs days and TAC track days and hallway days and gymnastics room days to do workout videos,” said girls track coach Damon Clare.
Mother Nature isn’t the only one to have altered the early-season workouts for the track teams, Rue noted. Construction crews have also had an effect.
“Adding to the challenge of weather is the construction, which has taken away the pool and one court (the fitness machines are set up in one corner of the TAC). In the past, we used the pool a couple of times per week for workouts,” he said. “We will get in most of our meets, but the season will really feel short, considering we are three weeks from championship season.”
Short, compacted seasons cause another problem — a shortness of officials, who will all be needed on the same days at the same times.
“We have a problem with not having enough officials for all of our games,” said Lindquist. “There are big problems with lacrosse officials, not having enough. Baseball and softball, when you stack multiple games, you don’t have enough officials.”
Through Thursday, at least 23 scheduled events at the varsity level alone, had been affected by the weather. Only three events have been played.
The boys tennis team went inside to play a doubles-only quadrangular at Becker April 7, and this past Monday, went inside again at Hutchinson, for a dual against Litchfield. The track and field team competed at the Belle Plaine Invitational April 12, after that event was rescheduled from its original April 5 date.
“It was the first time for many new track athletes trying on spikes,” said Clare.
The girls and boys looked comfortable in their new shoes. The Tiger girls won three events, and the boys won two.
Of course, there are more teams than just those that compete at the varsity level. From 7th grade all the way up to varsity, the red lines that indicate amendments to the master schedule strike through 68 events.