Weather warriors: Lacrosse teams battle through adverse conditions

Sunday, April 29, 2018 | 5:42 PM

The WPIAL's lacrosse season started in March, but many teams have been wondering when it's going to feel like it's here.

Cold temperatures, rain, sleet, fog and snow have been obstacles for all the boys and girls lacrosse teams this spring. But, more often than not, they have been out on their fields practicing or playing games through it all.

“The kids have been practicing in sweatpants all year. Just in the last week, there were a couple days we were able to come out and practice in shorts,” Latrobe boys coach Pete Cuda said. “Saturday was the first real game where the kids have dressed in traditional lacrosse gear, shorts and a T-shirt. It felt like a true lacrosse season for once.”

Throughout March and April, the weather was inconsistent, which forced teams to prepare for many conditions on a daily basis.

“It's been painful. The guys are pretty tough. They pretty much play through anything,” Penn-Trafford boys coach Dan Hagerty said. “Lightning is pretty much the only thing we don't mess with.”

Most lacrosse teams practice and play their games on their high school's football field and, since most of those fields are turf, they have been able to practice and play their way through the elements, while their baseball and softball counterparts have not. So game schedules have remained mostly intact.

“If we didn't have a turf field, our season would have been delayed two weeks,” Hampton girls coach Kelsey Viets said. “I feel for our counterparts in baseball and softball. Those fields are all grass, and it's been rough for them. Any team that has a grass field for lacrosse, the weather has been really brutal. A lot of games have been canceled with opponents who don't have the luxury of a turf facility.”

While most varsity teams have been able to utilize turf fields, the feeder programs often don't. The bad weather has been especially tough on those younger squads.

“We're fortunate to have a turf field, so it really doesn't affect us too much. But I am involved with Central Westmoreland Lacrosse, and we practice on grass fields. We started the first week of March and have canceled 90 percent of the practices so far,” Cuda said. “The reality of it is that everyone is fighting for turf time. All the spring sports are suffering. Trying to get time on the turf field has been more difficult this year because everybody is looking for time. I've been coordinating with our AD and the other coaches. It's been really difficult.

“When you practice in the gym, it really limits what you can do. It's affecting everybody. It's hard to believe we're more than halfway through the season, but it feels like we haven't started yet. The guys haven't been able to enjoy being out there in shorts and having fun.”

What's the worst weather condition for a lacrosse team?

“I think having a windy day with snow flurries is really difficult because the visibility becomes difficult. We've had a couple games with flurries and when it was really windy, and that affected us a lot. The girls are wearing goggles, and it really limited their vision. It makes it really hard on a defense to see the ball movement and see where their girl is moving,” Viets said.

“I think, for us, it's the wind and the wind chills that come with it,” Latrobe girls coach Kaytie Russo said. “Our field is located on a hill, and that can get really windy. I think that's the thing the girls dislike the most.”

“The worst is really cold rain but not so cold that it freezes and snows. So, if it's 34 and raining. That just soaks right through you,” Hagerty said. “We played Plum, and it was just a monsoon and cold, but not cold enough to snow.”

“At least for me and my guys, the worst is the cold. It's really hard to get the kids to be focused when teaching something new because they are thinking about how cold they are,” Cuda said.

So how do teams handle being out in the elements, particularly the freezing temperatures?

“There is a line of demarcation in terms of what is humane, in terms of keeping people outside. I tell people that, if they are allowed to go out and stand for the bus, then they can practice outside,” Viets said. “They wear gloves, earbands and layers. As long as there is no lightning, we play in any type of precipitation. The girls are used to that.

“Certainly, it's tough. Just trying to run long distances in cold weather, your chest gets tight. You lose your stamina and acceleration quickly. We sub more often in cold weather to keep everyone fresh.”

“Our guys typically wear Under Armour and sweatpants. The key for us is just keeping everyone moving. We really try to keep people in motion the whole time for practices. The worst thing is standing there freezing,” Hagerty said “The bright side is that it's easy for our guys to stay focused for most of our games. Practices are where you'd rather be somewhere else when it's miserable out.”

The extreme cold affects the equipment, too.

“With the equipment we have today, the sticks can get brittle and break a lot easier. When it's really cold, the mesh on the sticks starts to get frozen. In practice, it's one thing. But, in games, when the sticks start to freeze up and get stiff, it makes the basic techniques more difficult,” Cuda said. “I tell the kids to wear whatever they need to stay warm. Being warm is more important than anything else. The guys will wear latex gloves under their lacrosse gloves, which helps keeps moisture trapped in and helps keep their hands a little warmer. We've had more practices in jackets, hoodies and sweatpants than I can ever remember. Typically, the officials want the kids wearing matching shorts and jerseys, but the referees have been letting them wear sweatpants because they feel the weather and are geared up, too.”

Added Hagerty, “It's pretty hard to handle a stick when your extremities aren't working really well. It's hard to throw and catch when you can't feel your hands. The heads on the sticks are plastic and they crack when it's really cold. So guys will have to sub out and switch to other stick when that happens. It can be expensive.”

Goalies deal with the worst of the conditions, often standing idle for long stretches and getting hit with shots.

“Getting hit with a shot at 80 mph when it's 35 out feels a lot different than when it's 65 out. It can be really brutal on the body,” Viets said. “They are not moving as much, either, so it's harder to keep their heart rates up and muscles loose. I have three goalies and not one has complained, though.”

Teams hope the weather has tilted away from winter and into spring, finally.

“We are looking forward to that. The past couple days have been nice. We were practicing and getting a sun tan,” Russo said. “Rain, you can deal with. It's just the freezing temperatures and getting sleet. That's tough to practice through. In my eight years of coaching, this has been probably worst weather year we had.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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