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updated: 3/13/2014 8:16 PM

As winter lingers, spring teams trying to be patient

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  • The Larkin High School baseball diamond remains under a cover of snow Wednesday.

      The Larkin High School baseball diamond remains under a cover of snow Wednesday.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • The Larkin High School baseball diamond remains under a cover of snow Wednesday.

      The Larkin High School baseball diamond remains under a cover of snow Wednesday.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

By Mike Miazga
Daily Herald Correspondent

There isn't much humor to be found in the vile winter weather that has continued to badger the area despite the calendar turning to early spring.

Luckily, area high school athletic coaches are taking the foul forecasts in stride as they employ creative ways to get their players and teams ready for the upcoming season despite combinations of cold temperatures, snow, rain and wet grounds threatening to push game schedules back to April. The baseball, softball and girls soccer seasons are scheduled to begin Monday.

"If this keeps going the IHSA might just go straight to seeding the state tournament," 19th-year St. Edward girls soccer coach Tim Brieger said with a laugh.

Veteran Larkin girls soccer coach Ken Hall joked: "We're supposed to play the 25th of March. Hopefully we'll play by the 25th of April."

While the foul weather has, for the most part, quashed any hope of teams getting outside to practice, area coaches are making the best of what they have at their disposal.

Huntley baseball coach Andy Jakubowski said his team is fortunate to be able to use the Huntley Red Raiders travel team's indoor facility located at One Union Square Plaza on Illinois 47.

"The varsity guys are going there Monday, Wednesday Friday and Saturday," he said. "We do all our live hitting there and some defensive-specific training. We have six different stations set up. The most important thing is our pitchers get their work in and that our hitters have about 50-60 at-bats before their first game. There is turf there. We're able to spread out and get stuff done."

Hall said the varsity girls soccer team has been practicing at Kimball Middle School in Elgin from 3:45 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., to help ease space concerns at Larkin.

"We're able to work on individual ball skills," he said. "At times it gets a little repetitive because we're doing the same thing over and over, but you make the best of it."

Kris Grabner said his Huntley girls soccer team has benefitted from the new turf football field at the school, which made a recent outdoor practice possible.

"We were able to get on the turf (earlier this week)," he said. "That put us a week ahead of getting outside in any other year. The turf has been a huge help. It's a huge advantage. The more times you can get out there, the farther ahead you are going to be."

Huntley's soccer team also uses the same Union indoor facility as the baseball team.

"That allows us to get on turf instead of on the gym floor," said Grabner. "It's helped a lot."

Bartlett baseball coach Chris Pemberton, whose team has practiced in the parking lot several times, said he's dialed back the pace of preparation because of the bad weather.

"We know what's ahead, so we're not in any hurry here," he said. "We know we're going to have a little more time on our hands until we start playing games, so we're not in a hurry to rush and get everything in."

St. Edward softball coach Jaci Corn has added two wrinkles to her team's practice regimen.

"We've been using the last half-hour of practice for the classroom," she said. "We go over knowledge-of-the-game-type things."

And it isn't 100 percent softball business being conducted during Green Wave practices.

"We try and make it fun and do something upbeat and different that sometimes is non-softball," Corn said. "We'll do our talent show again. It's a good icebreaker that helps the kids open up and break out of their shells and feel comfortable. We'll also do things such as the dizzy bat race. I learned that one from my coach in high school (former Elgin coach Renee Randall). We want to lighten the mood."

Larkin softball coach Anne Vogt has instilled an early-riser philosophy to get the most out of her indoor practices.

"Right now we're practicing at 6 a.m.," she said. "That lets us use the main gym."

Cary-Grove softball coach Tammy Olson noted softball teams are at less of a disadvantage indoors than their baseball counterparts.

"Some of the things we do outside we can do indoors because softball is only 60 feet (between bases)," she said. "Most gyms you can get 60 feet in. The only difference indoors is you have to use indoor balls and that does change how you receive it."

While creativity is a must to counter the potential of cabin practice fever, there still is the issue of field playability once Old Man Winter boards a Greyhound out of town.

"It's going to be a mess for a long time," said Pemberton earlier this week. "Even our batting cage outside has two-thirds of it still covered in ice."

Hall said he recently tried to retrieve soccer balls from an outdoor shed on the school grounds.

"I couldn't move the gates open because of all the snow," he said. "There is so much snow piled up against the gates."

Elgin baseball coach David Foerster said one consolation is the fact most area coaches have been through this regimen in prior springs.

"As coaches, we're used to it," he said. "Last year it was four or five weeks before we went outside. It's frustrating, but we're used to it."

Longtime Burlington Central softball coach Wade Maisto is hearing a disturbing time frame for the start of 2014 games from his coaching contemporaries.

"It's scary that people are saying it might be the middle of April," he said. "You don't want to lose those nonconference games that you may not be able to reschedule. You can live with starting one week later, but playing three weeks later is a different story."

Brieger said the soccer season's postseason earlier conclusion date than baseball and softball could present scheduling headaches if the weather does not turn soon. Brieger has been looking into moving early-season St. Edward games to locations with turf fields.

"The season is over Memorial Day weekend," he said. "There is only so much room to be able to push back games. We don't play over spring break or Easter weekend so that's nine days right there that we don't have. Looking at the schedule there are some weeks now where we have games almost every day."

Maisto scheduled one doubleheader in the popular Rosemont indoor dome by O'Hare airport and will take his team to Bloomington for some games the weekend the school's spring break begins.

"Hopefully the weather down there will be a little better and the fields will be playable," he said.

Corn tried to schedule some games at the Rosemont facility but could not find availability. Burlington Central's baseball team is headed to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for a series of games.

"We should all move to Arizona," Grabner jokingly suggested as a solution to the constantly unpredictable Illinois spring weather.

Maisto has his own thought suggestion he thinks will help temper the weather frustration.

"We'll get that good weather in April and May," he said. "That's when it's the most fun to play anyway."

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