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Local spring sports coaches have devised creative ways to ward off boredom in practice

WORTHINGTON -- It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. Well, actually, it's the worst of times for spring sport athletes. But local coaches are doing what they can to keep their kids interested while April blizzards blow by, oh, every ...

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Worthington Trojans softball coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka hits balls to players perched on the side of a 10-foot snow pile at the school parking lot Thursday afternoon. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.

Well, actually, it’s the worst of times for spring sport athletes. But local coaches are doing what they can to keep their kids interested while April blizzards blow by, oh, every four days or so.

These are the times when, if you’re a golfer for the Worthington Trojans, you can hear co-head coach John Koller give a speech about how to make lemonade out of lemons. And he doesn’t even charge anything for it.

Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka, who coaches the WHS girls’ softball team, stages competitive gymnasium games to keep the Trojans loose. If you strike the ball off the logo of a particular Big South Conference rival (the identity of the team is a well-guarded secret), you’re credited with a grand slam.

Boys tennis coach Mike Marquardt has wall rallies, where players try to hit specific targets on gym walls. Gym-bound baseball mentor Stacy Sauerbrei sometimes will allow players to hit live, with softer baseballs, though he suspects that some of his players aim for coaches. The Trojans track and field team, just to mix it up a little bit, has had dodgeball games in the gym.

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By the time you read this, the sun might be out and most of the snow may have melted. But the damage has already been done. If it isn’t cold weather, it’s snow that causes postponement after postponement for games and meets.

The WHS track and tennis teams saw one good day recently where they actually had a competition. But all the teams have gotten their fill of indoor practices.

Occasionally, they get outdoors to practice. The WHS golf team coached by Koller and Paul Barduson managed to get out to Beresford, S.D., on Tuesday. It was a rare treat to get to hit on an actual course, but it came with a price.

“You pretty much were losing feeling in your hands by the time it was done,” Koller said.

The track team gets outdoors about as much as any outfit -- running on streets, pacing along the middle school path, circling the parking lot at the high school. Field event athletes, who spend much of their time in the weight room, have it worse. If you ever tried to pole vault in a gymnasium, you know how hard it can be.

As for the runners, co-head coach Cory Smidt -- who has as positive an attitude as anyone you’d care to meet, says there are more options for runners during these snowy, cold times.

“Most of our kids like running. That’s why they came out for track,” he said.

He credits the athletes for maintaining positive attitudes.

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“You gotta be creative as much as possible. The kids are good, they help out,” Smidt said.

Creativity helps “You try to mix it up a little bit, create some competitively fun things,” said the baseball coach, Sauerbrei.

For instance, the coaches will take away the wooden platform they use for an indoor “mound” and let the players hit live balls, albeit softer balls than regulation baseballs. Sauerbrei, however, has noticed that he and the other coaches always seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, having to dodge line drives.

“They like that,” he says of his hitters.

It’s common sense when you’re indoors and you’re on the golf team that you, in Koller’s words, “do the short game.”

“We have a nice rotation in the wrestling room where we have some artificial greens. And we have some old-fashioned buckets to chip into,” said the coach. “My ice fishing buckets have been turned into golf ball containers.”

Koller maintains his sense of humor. But it can’t always be easy.

“You want to see how the ball flies, and how it rolls. And we’re extremely limited,” he said.

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The golf team isn’t always hitting chip shots into buckets. They’ve watched a couple of golf videos together. On the Friday of the 2018 Masters, they watched the tournament together and had a pizza party.

Then there are, of course, Koller’s motivational speeches. He says the team has a lot of time to talk about golfing rules.

Well, that’s always fun.

The bad, cold weather hasn’t kept the boys tennis team down -- well, not completely, anyway, as they wile away the hours at Prairie Elementary.

“We actually still hit. We use foam balls. We set up makeshift nets,” said Marquardt. “Our guys are actually hitting quite a lot. It’s different with the timing and the weight of the ball, but you still can swing. It’s not like you have to sugar-coat it, because the balls just don’t go as far.”

By doing it Marquardt’s way, the Trojans are still able to work on keeping rallies going. And the players, said the coach, seem to take it in stride. Once the bad weather stretch finally exits for good, they know that -- with the postponed meets piling up on the latter half of the schedule -- they’re going to be very busy with actual events.

Hayenga-Hostikka said the Trojan softball players still need to do drills, but she’s constantly trying to come up with ideas to keep practice fresh.

It’s tough.

“It wouldn’t be so bad if you could say we’ve only got two days left, and then we can go outside. But it’s for weeks, and then you know another storm is coming,” Hayenga-Hostikka said.

So the Trojans scoop up a lot of ground balls indoors. They know,  however, that those ground balls will bounce differently on real softball infields. Hayenga-Hostikka admits the girls could be picking up some bad habits inside.

“We may have a few go through our legs in the first game,” she said.

A sense of humor, of course, helps to guard against the sense of monotony. But there’s clearly a downside to it all, of which Sauerbrei is well aware. With each week that goes by without games being played, there is an ominous feeling that the season is ebbing away -- that, through no one’s fault, it’s slipping through the fingers.

Says he: “You’re losing a year of eligibility, because you can’t play games.”  

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WHS track and field athletes run laps in the student parking lot with last weekend's snowfall safely tucked at the edges. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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