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Say it ain't snow!

Snow covers the field and the bleachers at First National Bank of River Falls Field Monday, April 16. River Falls baseball coach Ryan Bishop said he estimates it will be another two weeks before the field will be playable following last weekend's snowstorm. Bob Burrows / RiverTowns Multimedia

How does a softball team practice when it can't even get outside?

"We've had to be creative to come up with ideas to keep the momentum going in the gym," River Falls coach Jess Olson said. "This week we will be sliding and diving on sleeping bags to simulate being in the dirt. With being inside, it's very challenging to keep practice engaging, and to keep girls focused on the goal set earlier in the season, with the future looking so bleak and unpredictable, due to weather."

The future looks even more bleak and unpredictable following last weekend's blizzard. So far this spring, not counting a handful of indoor track and field meets, River Falls has gotten one tennis match in while Hudson has played one girls soccer game and one boys tennis quad inside at the the Apple Valley Arena.

Between the two schools, that makes for a total of 12 baseball games, 14 softball games, 10 tennis matches, nine girls soccer matches and three boys golf tournaments cancelled between April 1 and April 17.

And after last weekend's snowstorm, don't count on getting any games in this week either.

"We've already canceled everything at home this week," River Falls athletic director Rollie Hall said Monday, April 16. "Friday's (Border Battle) track meet has been moved inside to Knowles Center. But realistically, if you look outside, we're not going to be on any of our fields for two weeks. And golf probably isn't going to get out until May."

Hudson athletic director Stephanie DeVos said this has been a spring like no other.

"Everybody is itching to just get out there and every time it looks like it's getting better we get more snow," she said. "It's still going to work out, we just have to stay positive. Everybody has to chip in and be patient."

Meanwhile, teams do what they can to prepare for whenever opening day finally does roll around.

"We're just trying to utilize the turf practice fields with other spring sports teams and trying to stay positive," Hudson baseball coach Trevor Peck said. "The biggest things is keeping the players focus and energy up until we can finally start competing."

DeVos said even using the new turf practice field at the high school has presented new challenges.

"Not only has the weather been a challenge but with the facilities being renovated that adds a whole new frustration level," she said. "We're testing the waters with our new fields with snow removal and learning what we can and cannot do. And we're working with the turf experts, but it's a whole new level. Not only are we juggling events but we're juggling practices."

River Falls doesn't have the luxury of a turf practice field this season. Voters approved a measure April 3 to install a turf field behind the high school next year but that doesn't help the Wildcats now as every team is limited to practicing inside a gym

"Our batting cage is only 50 feet long" River Falls baseball coach Ryan Bishop noted. "So as long as we're inside our hitters never get to face live pitching at 60 feet, 6 inches. Our hitters' timing is the most important obstacle that we'll need to adjust to once we do get out."

"The biggest limitation is fielding," Olson said. "In the gym the ball doesn't take bad hops like it would on dirt. Also, any type of fly ball or pop fly is not realistic. Even scrimmaging is challenging due to limited space."

DeVos said the Big Rivers Conference athletic directors are holding a special meeting Wednesday, April 18, to address the scheduling concerns.

"We're doing a lot of juggling and trying to be creative, but this is s spring like no other," she said.

Hall said everything is on the table.

"We've talked about half-seasons; instead of home-and-home games you only play each team once, at least for softball, baseball and soccer. Tennis, if we can get the courts swept off and have a day to dry we might be able to get that going. And you'll see some Saturday games. "Wednesdays have always been off limits but we may have to start looking at that. But then you have to think about things like choir and band and kids that double up on things. You don't want to overload them."

With the WIAA spring tournament season starting in the the third week of May, Hall said time is running out.

"We're down to a month," he noted. "Every sport, within a month, will be starting tournaments."

In the meantime, he said, all teams can do is be flexible and patient.

"You can't control the weather and you can't control your relatives," he said. "It is what it is."

DeVos is just trying to stay positive.

"Right now we're just taking it one day at a time," she said. "It will get warm eventually."

Bob Burrows

Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.

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