The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 24, 2013

Weathering the storm

Area teams dealing with seasons put in deep freeze by Mother Nature

For the Star Beacon

— Nobody likes winter weather, but everybody roots for a snow day. Everybody, that is, except the area’s high school coaches. Snow days can just as often be as much of a curse as they are a blessing for those men and women.

Wicked cold, high winds and poor road conditions all joined forced to wreak havoc on the local high school sports schedule Tuesday and Wednesday nights, wiping out games and practices all across Lake and Ashtabula counties.

Basketball and wrestling coaches are now left to deal with the aftermath.

The immediate fallout is a group of teenaged athletes, looking forward to playing a game, who were then sent home without so much as a practice.

“It can be good or bad,” Riverside girls basketball coach Brindi Kandel said. “The girls are pumped up for a game, then they find out just hours before that they can’t play.

“They tend to feel let down. And we have a policy that if we don’t have school or a game is canceled because of the weather, we’re not allowed to practice. We end up losing a game and a day of preparation and conditioning. That’s a bit of a struggle.”

If a game is wiped out during the time off, preparation is affecting in a couple of ways. Gameplanning, all of a sudden, becomes a bit of a problem.

“The challenge is getting ready quickly,” Kandel said. “We were prepared for Kirtland. Now we have to Kirtland aside and prepare for Lakeside until later in the season (when the Beavers will have to prepare for Kirtland again).

“Like you said, we’re senior heavy, so the transition from gameplan to another should be smooth,” Kandel said.

Most coaches don’t feel like losing a day of practice hurts conditioning much. It’s other areas that their players are affected.

“My biggest concern is breaking our offensive rhythm,” Kandel said. “Conditioning is always a concern, but I’ll be able to tell right away (today at practice) if that’s really a factor.

“It is surprising you do see more of a problem with rhythm than conditioning. They need repetition, especially at the high school level. It’s muscle memory. Playing together day after day gets them that rhythm. Any break disrupts the rhythm. We’ll try and get it back Thursday and Friday.”

Some teams are able to avoid long periods of time without their players taking the court.

“We’re allowed to have a volunteer practice,” Conneaut boys coach Tim Tallbacka said. “(The last few days) we didn’t do it, though. I hate putting the kids in danger when the weather is poor.”

Getting that rhythm back isn’t easy, but coaches have their ways.

“Part of it is remembering back to our last game and building and learning from it,” Kandel said. “The other part is I’m a big believer that they’ve got to play five on five in order to evaluate where we’re at with chemistry. What we’ll do more of (today) is just play five on five to get our rhythm back and make up for not being able to play (Wednesday).”

There are benefits, to a few days off, too.

“At this point in the season, everyone is tired and every team is battling injuries,” Kandel said. “They’ve not only gotten a rest physically, but mentally, they didn’t have to deal with stress. Their minds got a break and they should come back completely refreshed.”

That rest is good for teams like the Conneaut boys, who operate as independents and don’t play a regular schedule like teams in leagues.

“We’ve been playing a lot of basketball,” Tallbacka said. “Quite honestly, it wouldn’t hurt our legs to have the break. Certainly, it’s more a matter of rhythm. Time off then, can be detrimental. I was more concerned that we had two 10-day breaks in December when we didn’t play.”

“You worry sometimes about continuity,” St. John girls basketball coach Nick Iarocci said. “But it’s nice to have a couple days off. The girls will come back and it will be almost like we’re all recharged. The girls have been texting me wanting to know when practice will be. I know they enjoy snow days, but they also miss being around each other.”

There comes a time, however, that two days off in the middle of a winter school week is never good. It’s when those two days fall right before a game, forcing teams to play without having practiced.

“That’s not a situation you like,” Kandel said. “We had that happen a couple years ago and we came out flat. It was one of those games that was ugly for both teams. It’s the worst-case scenario to have two days off then have to come back and play. It’s very difficult to do well.”

“We had to do that a couple years ago,” PV boys coach Ryan Fitch said. “We didn’t practice for four days and we had to come back and play Jefferson. They beat us, 53-49, and I had to use two timeouts in the first quarter because the kids were completely winded. They beat us off the dribble. It was like our feet were stuck in cement.

“It’s a coaches’ nightmare to play the day after you can’t practice. The team feels unprepared, the coaches feel unprepared a and it’s just not a good experience.”    

Iarocci, ever the politician, knows that there’s two sides to that coin.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “If you come out and play hard, everyone is upset. If you come out and play well, the girls will say, ‘See, we practice too much.’

“What you really hope for is that your opponent is in the same boat. That’s all you can ask for. In our current situation, we have two days to prepare for our next game, so (being off for a couple days) doesn’t upset me too much.”

Of course, another reason coaches dread snow days is that teenagers with nothing to do can often lead to craziness and, possibly, injuries.

“We haven’t (talked to them about being safe) this year, but in the past, we’ve asked them not to do anything crazy,” Kandel said. “I think even sledding is dangerous. We only play six kids, so they know they can’t get hurt or even sick because they aren’t dressed properly.”

Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.