By BRAD SALMEN
COKATO – It’s been a frustrating season for the Dassel-Cokato spring sports teams.
As of Wednesday, every single game and meet scheduled for this season – over 20 in all – had been cancelled or rescheduled due to inclement weather.
And with the snow we’ve had of late, the Chargers haven’t even been able to practice outdoors. Instead, the five teams (baseball, softball, boys golf, girls golf, and track & field) share three gymnasiums at DCHS.
It’s led to the DC spring sports coaches getting creative in keeping their athletes engaged and motivated.
DC track & field head coach Nathan Youngs could not deny his boys and girls teams have been getting a little restless.
“It is hard to say whether it is from not practicing inside, poor weather, or lack of competitions,” he said. “We are on the sixth week of track, and there is a small chance we could get one competition in this week [Thursday’s meet at Maple Lake].”
Youngs said he and his staff have been trying to mix up practices, with the team training in the swimming pool, weight room, wrestling room, outside, and in the gym.
The pole vaulters and sprinters have been the hardest hit for lack of practice, but they are “hanging in there,” he said.
“I feel especially bad for the seniors. It will be a memorable season, but for all the wrong reasons,” said Youngs. “This is by far the worst year [weather-wise] I have been a part of.”
If Thursday’s track meet does happen as scheduled, the Charger baseball team will be the second spring sports team to open their varsity season, on Saturday.
However, it will be 250 miles from home.
DC is scheduled to take on Hutchinson in a doubleheader at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.
Head coach Cole Flick has been heartened by his team’s attitude throughout the inclement spring weather, from the C and JV teams to the varsity.
“Their attitude has been fantastic,” said Flick. “There hasn’t been a day in which the players weren’t in a good mood and willing to give their best.
“We offered the players a day off, and they said they would rather be in the gym,” he said. “It’s a grind hitting off tees, or taking ground balls off of the gym floor, but this group of players has been excited to be there each day.”
Flick said he and his staff have tried to make the most of the situation. For example, one group of players that benefits from being indoors is the pitchers, as they get extended instruction and reps every day.
“It’s a more focused practice for them, we can work on delivery, technique, and new pitches,” said Flick. “If we were outside, the pitchers would be spending more time at their other positions … I guess time will tell if it pays off.”
On the flip side, however, being indoors is difficult for the outfielders.
“Coach [Tim] Illies is a great fungo hitter, but even he struggles with fly balls in the gym,” said Flick.
Flick said he shook things up a bit by having the JV and varsity go bowling at Howard Lake Bowl instead of practice recently.
“We had a bunch of prizes to give out, and even had three players come dressed in costumes,” he said. “That was a lot of fun. We’ve also played a lot of simulated rag ball games inside, that is always a favorite for the players.”
Softball coach Wendy Runquist said she has also mixed things up with the inclement weather, incorporating some “fun days” into the schedule.
She said the team played “pool softball” one day after a pool workout, and went sledding at Cokato Elementary on another day, along with an impromptu day off.
“The team’s attitude has been awesome in spite of the snowy weather,” she said. “The girls have done everything we have asked them to do, and have been putting in 100% effort.”
This spring’s weather has been, and is going to be, especially tough on the golf teams.
As golf courses typically take longer than baseball or softball fields to dry up enough to allow participants on the surface, it might well be May 1 or later before DC golfers can participate in a meet, said boys head coach Brian Johnson.
“I was really hoping for sometime next week [to step on a course], but now with the amount of snow we’ve had, I think we will be lucky to be on the course by May 1,” said Johnson. “It is not just the snow, but we need to get the frost out of the ground as well.”
Johnson said that previous to this year, the latest start date during his 21-season tenure was in 2013, when the first meet was on April 30.
DC head girls golf coach Jon Ring said he has mixed things up this season for his team.
“We’ve done a variety of things including core workouts, dodgeball, and floor hockey, in addition to chipping and putting in the gym,” he said.
Ring said his team might be the most-versed team in DC history in regard to the rules of golf.
“We have spent more time on studying the rules of golf more this year than in most years,” he said. “It’s been a challenging spring, and I appreciate the willingness of the girls to continue plugging along. Hopefully we’ll be outside hitting soon, and on the course playing golf.”
Both the boys and girls golf programs have taken advantage of some “Birdie Ball” putting greens purchased last year to practice their chipping and putting skills.
“[The Birdie Ball greens] are really nice, and have been good for the players to work on putting and chipping on a product that is almost like putting on a real green,” said Johnson.
Outside of that, however, the teams are limited to hitting driver and irons into a net.
“It can be difficult hitting indoors into a net mere feet in front of you,” said Johnson. “It would be different if we had a golf simulator where they could follow the flight path on the screen.”
Nevertheless, said Johnson, the attitude of his players has been as positive as it can be.
“Obviously, we would like to be outside on the course,” he said. “But the boys have handled it well.”