The Lincoln Pius X girls tennis team worked up a good sweat the other day in practice.

But the Thunderbolts were not working on their volleys, or finding the right doubles pairings for the upcoming season.

This was the arms-and-shoulder workout.

"Part of our workouts the last few days has been shoveling 5-foot drifts (off the courts)," Pius X tennis coach Nolan DeWispelare said. "They don't complain about it."

Hey, at least the team got outside for a brief period. Otherwise, like the majority of spring sport teams in Nebraska, the opportunities to practice outdoors have been like some of the overnight temperatures.


High school spring sport events are scheduled to start Thursday. That's what the calendar says, anyway. The reality is, a lot of seasons will be put on hold as schools wait for warmer temperatures and dry conditions.

It could be two or three more weeks before the golf courses are ready for use. And don't be surprised if the start of baseball season is closer to April 1.

Soccer teams can play on wet fields and in cooler temperatures, so the start of the season may be closer, but there's still a lot of snow and ice on the fields.

Sure, coaches and players are used to a March snowstorm or cold spell putting practices and events on hold for a few days. But this ...

"As coaches, we’re used to it a little bit, but not to this extent," North Star track coach Matt Musiel said. "There doesn’t really seem to be an end in sight. I don’t see those 50s and 60s down the road, which makes it a little bit discouraging."

The deep freeze has left activity directors, assistant activity directors and coaches scrambling. They're trying to find and squeeze practice time into the school's gyms, and around the other teams' needs. They're looking for creative ways to have the kids ready for when the season does move outdoors. And many schools are trying to find indoor off-site spaces they can use or rent.

Some tennis teams have been able to use Woods' indoor courts. The Lancaster Event Center, Speedway Motors, Abbott Sports Complex and the Genesis facility near Old Cheney Road and 56th Street have been used by some teams, which requires schools dipping into program funds in some cases.

The Lincoln Southwest track and field team will use Doane's indoor facility next week ahead of an indoor track meet.

But in most cases, city teams are turning to their schools for practice time and space.

"We are almost using every inch of Southwest for athletics," Southwest boys golf coach Jim Danson said. "Hallways. Stairs. You name it, and we are using it. When the weather’s like this, I think the coaches have to be creative and use their imagination and use every inch of free space that they do have."

Weight rooms and swimming pools have been utilized, as well as "any possible straightaway we can find," Musiel said.

Spring practices are two weeks in. With no chance to get on the golf course, Danson said his Southwest golf team has spent a lot of time going over USGA rule changes. At Northeast, golfers have been able to hit into a mesh net in the gym.

The Northeast soccer team has played a lot of Futsal, an indoor version of soccer played on a hard surface.

Without the ability to do any live hitting outdoors, the Pius X girls tennis team has a portable net set up in the gym, and they also hit against walls.

Obviously, baseball teams are unable to take infield and outfield, and gym space has been limited because of state basketball.

At North Star, the long-distance runners are able to run in the streets outside, but the sprinters, jumpers and throwers are forced inside, where hurdles are set up in the gym or hallway and shot putters are throwing against mats set up against the wall. Jumpers work on their runway approaches.

"They haven’t even touched the discus," Musiel said. "There’s nowhere to throw it."

Schools also have to be strategic in how they use gym space. After all, the track, tennis, golf and boys and girls soccer teams are all trying to share space after or before school. And it can be very challenging at schools like North Star and Southwest where each has about 200 kids out for track.

"We do have to get creative where we have varsity doing a film session from 5-6 while the reserve and JV are using the gym time and then we’ll swap, so that way we’re not using the same space at once," said Northeast boys soccer coach Chris Simley, who added that sometimes practices don't start until 8:30 at night. "That makes its tough because each team is getting only an hour of court time."

While logistics have been a challenge, so too has been the mental side of it. Coaches have had to put an emphasis on keeping athletes positive while they wait to break cabin fever.

"Obviously, there’s all different levels of emotions, but for the most part I think the kids are resilient," Danson said. "They understand what’s going on. It’s like golf. When things are not going the way you want to, how are you going to react? We talk about the mental aspect of the game quite a bit."

Southeast baseball coach Montana Jones said his staff has incorporated some fun events -- a swimming pool session, going bowling, going to a movie -- to keep the players in good spirits. Practices have also been kept to 60-75 minutes, Jones added.

"The main thing is trying to keep the kids having fun and keeping their focus and wanting to come back every day," said Jones, who has been able to find a little off-site time at the Lancaster Event Center and a couple other indoor facilities.

"One of the things is just them getting burned out," Jones added. "Kids really don’t like to practice, they want to play in the games. The games are the rewarding factors."

Safe to say, some spring sport seasons will be put on hold. That's leading to some early dialogue about schedule changes. Danson said he's hoping some golf tournaments scheduled for the first two week get rescheduled, and Jones said a priority will be making sure city baseball matchups and the Heartland Athletic Conference Tournament get made up as much as possible.

Though the upcoming weather forecast isn't all sunshine -- temperatures are creeping up but it's expected to be wet and still very cool this upcoming week -- coaches can agree: Eventually, at long last, the weather will turn for the better.

"We’re all in the same boat," Jones said. "We just got to find a way to get to the end of the tunnel and hopefully April brings us better weather."

Said Simley, "For us, it’s been a challenge and we’ve made due. I feel like we're liking getting concepts. I feel like we’re still productive. The good thing is everyone is dealing with this, too."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.


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