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Rain, Rain Go Away

Local high school teams do all they can to get practices, games in.

Dealing with poor springtime weather is a yearly ordeal high school sports teams have got to deal with and properly navigate in order to get the most out of their seasons. The cranky spring seasons in Northern Virginia often consist of cold, blustery weather and lots of rain. Such elements are not conducive to outdoor sports and create havoc with the re-scheduling of games, difficult field conditions and team continuity. Usually, the poor weather is worse over the first six weeks of the spring season, a carryover from the winter, before turning for the better over the final six weeks or so of the school year.

"It seems as if weather has always been an issue during baseball season," said second year Herndon High baseball coach Greg Miller, a former player for the Hornets as well. "Dealing with the rain is never fun. I always tell our team that we need to control what we are capable of controlling and the weather isn't one of those things."

Miller and his Herndon team, which carried an impressive 5-1 record going into this week, have a nice backup plan in the event that bad weather hinders practices.

"We are very fortunate that one of our assistants owns an indoor facility, Diamond Sports Training in Sterling, and we are able to go there and workout when our field is not playable," he said. "It is a beautiful facility and we are able to get most of our normal work in there. So far our team hasn't given any indication that the weather is going to affect the way we play."

IT IS PRETTY MUCH expected that several games during the spring will be hindered by poor weather, resulting in temporary stoppage of play during a game or postponement. Early season non-district games are often not re-scheduled. District games usually are re-scheduled.

"We have been fortunate so far, in that we have only postponed one game due to weather," said Maurice Tawil, the McLean High girls' softball coach.

Last Saturday, the Highlanders spent most of the day preparing their field for a 2 p.m. afternoon game versus private school opponent Bishop O'Connell. Late week rain had swamped the diamond with water. But all the hard work Saturday morning and on into the early afternoon paid off as the field was made playable. McLean, the defending state public school champions, went on to defeat the perennial powerhouse Knights to improve their record to 6-0.

"We worked on our field for seven hours, to make the field playable for our game with O'Connell," said Tawil. "We obviously wanted to play."

Longtime athletic personnel in the Northern Region, such as Tim Gordon, the Fairfax High director of student activities, goes into the spring season expecting poor weather to cause havoc. This spring has been relatively easy in comparison to some spring seasons.

"I think I have been doing this so long as either a DSA (director of student activities) or a baseball coach, that I get used to it," said Gordon, the former head baseball coach at Chantilly High. "Honestly, I have memories of a lot worse times, like last year's blizzards and springs where we had to just cancel the second half of the season."

The relatively recent addition of turf playing fields on high school athletic campuses throughout Fairfax County has made it easier to combat rainy conditions. Many of the football stadiums use turf, meaning springtime girls' and boys' soccer and lacrosse games can often take place even when it is raining, as long as lightening, sleet, or high winds are not prevalent. The turf fields, which do not get ripped to shreds like grass fields, drain splendidly, allowing conditions to remain playable for longer.

"Turf fields have certainly made a difference for lax and soccer," said Gordon.

John Schneeberger, the Madison softball coach who led the Warhawks to both the Liberty District and Northern Region titles last year, said dealing with poor weather is simply a part of the spring sports equation.

"Rain is just a part of spring sports and impact softball and baseball the most," he said. "At Madison we plan for it and do what we can to play. The school is very supportive to make sure we have the resources available to get the field ready."

SOME OF THE LOCAL teams thrive playing in rainy, sloppy conditions.

In soccer and lacrosse, playing games in wet field conditions has been a common theme for years at the pro, college, and high school levels.

"Our team has an interesting twist on the bad weather," said Craig Lunde, the South Lakes High boys' lacrosse coach. "We love it."

Lunde, whose Seahawks last year qualified for the region playoffs for the first time in the program's history, recalled a 2010 spring game in which South Lakes thrived as rain intensified.

"Last year we played our best lacrosse quarter in the rain," he said. "We were down 4-2 at halftime. In the third quarter the rain got worse and the guys ran off nine straight goals to seal the victory."

During a pre-game talk to his players prior to their Liberty District opener against Stone Bridge on March 17, Lunde encouraged his team to embrace the poor playing conditions they had been practicing in all that week leading up to the game.

Sometimes, teams are grateful when a game is postponed. Lunde said his team was preparing to play without several key players in a March 31 district game at McLean. Three of his team members were scheduled to make a school band trip to Orlando and another player was under the weather. It turned out that the game was postponed due to poor weather. In the make-up game played on April 4, the Seahawks were at full strength again and defeated the Highlanders 13-6.

The Langley High girls' lacrosse team has had one game shortened - a 10-4 Liberty District home win over Marshall - due to worsening weather conditions, and another - a scheduled district home game last Friday night versus Jefferson - that was not started because of poor conditions.

While just two of Langley's games have been affected by poor weather, numerous practices have been changed up.

"We haven't had use of our fields about nine times this year," said Langley coach Richard DeSomma, who led the Saxons to their first ever state playoff appearance last year. "We are used to adjusting for that."

In the event that the Saxons cannot practice on their field, DeSomma said there are other options - the Saxons can practice in the gym, on the outdoor basketball court, or even on the outdoor track. And there is always the option of a chalk talk session inside.

"The girls aren't affected in any way," said DeSomma. "They and coaches are used to making adjustments. Any coach or player involved in a spring sport for any length of time knows what to expect - that it's not really warmer until the end of the season and that fall [season] sports are warmer for a longer period than spring sports."