Spring sports season cut short from winter weather

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Schedules restructured throughout conferences

Greg Bates, Times Herald Correspondent

The WIAA softball playoffs start May 22.

That’s creeping up awfully quickly and poses many problems for area teams. The Oconto Falls and Gillett/Suring softball teams haven’t even played a game yet this season. Not one game.

Mother Nature destroyed the first half of the spring sports schedules.

When upwards of 30 inches of snow was dumped on northeastern Wisconsin on April 13-15, that spelled doom for teams. Softball, baseball, golf and track and field athletes are all feeling the effects of not being able to compete in events.

“We’ve never seen it like this,” Oconto Falls activities director Jerry Moynihan said. “We’ve had it where it’s wet, but not with 20 inches of snow on the ground on the 18th of April.”

Moynihan met with fellow North Eastern Conference ADs on April 18 to discuss their plans for the remainder for the season for all sports. Some teams will play out their regularly scheduled events, while others are forced to take on abbreviated schedules.

The Oconto Falls softball team will attempt to get all of its conference games in and as many nonconference contests as it can fit in. Although instead of single games against conference foes, it will be doubleheaders when teams get together.

“Once we do get to play, we feel like we’ll be in good shape with the pitching depth that we have,” Oconto Falls softball coach Cory Albrecht said. “One nice thing is everyone’s in the same boat. Everyone’s going to have the same amount of games – it’s not just Oconto Falls that has to make up all these games. As long as it’s even throughout, we’ll be able to tackle it and get 20-some games in in four weeks.

“We’re being optimistic we can get them all in.”

Albrecht, who is in his second season as head coach, got out a snowblower and ventured out to the softball diamond April 19. He started to clear the first- and third-base lines but was forced to stop. Underneath the mounds of snow was soft ground, and he didn’t want to damage the field.

“It’s not looking good,” Albrecht said. “We’ve got drifts out in center field.”

Albrecht’s team has only been outside for one week all season to practice. To help make sure his players aren’t getting bored with indoor practices in the gym, Albrecht has brought the players to the Bond Community Center in Oconto for water aerobics and to Players Choice of the Fox Cities for an intrasquad scrimmage.

“In the gyms, you can only do so much,” Albrecht said. “And we’re throwing so much, we’re finding the girls’ arms are getting tired because we are practicing five days a week. Your reps in practice are more than what you have during a game. We’re getting pretty creative in what we’re doing.”

The Marinette & Oconto Conference will be using abbreviated schedules for softball and baseball. Teams will play conference opponents just once the second time around in their schedules. First conference games are slated to start April 24.

Gillett/Suring softball coach Mike Umentum said teams can schedule a doubleheader but the second game won’t count in the standings.

Umentum received an email from the Marathon activities director on April 18 in regard to the seeding meeting for regionals, since Marathon will be handling that.

“I’m like, ‘Let me get outside before I even think about filling out any seeding info,’” Umentum joked.

Umentum has been working his girls in practice, but he’s had to get creative.

“I gave my girls off this week,” Umentum said. “We’ve been in the gym for a month straight, and I’m just going to burn them out by hitting ground balls and making them do drills. You can only do so many things in a gym.”

The third-year coach doesn’t think his team will be able to have its first home game until the week of April 30.

“I still have three-foot drifts on my field. I just checked last night,” said Umentum on April 18. “I was standing on the first-base line with armpits on the top of the fence, and I’ve got a six-foot fence. It’s just crazy the amount of snow we got in the area – 30-plus inches.”

Umentum hopes to get the five conference games in during May, as well as take on a few nonconference opponents. Gillett/Suring might only get seven or eight total games in during the regular season.

For the Oconto Falls baseball team, it will be playing a shortened conference schedule.

The first half of the conference games are wiped out, so the North Eastern Conference will play just its second half of the season to decide the champion.

“At this point, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it,” longtime Oconto Falls head coach Charlie Rochon said. “It is what it is and the weather dictated it. … Mother Nature has not been kind.”

Said Moynihan: “There’s nothing saying that even if we schedule games in May that we’re not going to get rained out. So, there’s got to be some flexibility.”

Rochon is on an email chain with his fellow conference baseball coaches, and a number of them are in favor of setting up doubleheaders as opposed to single conference games. Rochon thinks that’s a bad idea.

“The first week we would play, it would be doubleheader Monday, doubleheader Tuesday, single game, nonconference game against Shawano Thursday and then doubleheader Saturday,” Rochon said. “That’s just ridiculous.”

With the WIAA — which has its baseball playoffs get underway May 24 — implementing pitch count rules last season, teams would not have ample arms to reasonably play five or six games per week.

“I don’t understand it, just to say you’re getting games in,” Rochon said.

Aside from Marinette, Oconto Falls travels the farthest for road conference games. When it has to head to the Fox Cities or even farther south, it’s a late night to get back home.

“I don’t think it’s good for kids,” Rochon said. “You remember, they’re student-athletes. They’re called a student first and then an athlete second. I take them out of school to go to Waupaca on a Monday; that’s craziness. We’ve done that where we’ve had to play at Waupaca, and we got home at 1:30 in the morning.”

Oconto Falls, which has played one game this season so far — a conference loss to Denmark, should get in its nine conference games. Rochon would like to get in about five nonconference games to get ready for the postseason.

Of Oconto Falls’ last eight conference games, four will be at home and four on the road.

The Oconto Falls boys and girls track and field teams have had only one meet, and their invitational is this week Thursday. Moynihan might have to alter the schedule to get the events in.

“Maybe we run on the track and do the long and triple (jumps) in our gym,” Moynihan said. “We have that benefit, so we’re going to play it by ear.”

All the athletes in Oconto Falls, Gillett and Suring are having to deal with the weather, but the rough season is most unfortunate for the seniors. It’s their final time competing in high school sports before graduation.

“I feel bad for them,” Moynihan said. “A senior, this is their last go-around, and they might end up with 12 games. I’m hoping to get them 12-14 games if we’re lucky, but you feel bad for them. I stress out about it because you’re in it for the kids, and you want them to get games in.”