Before the Snow Melted

by Jennifer Yu | 4/23/07 8:24am

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Until late last week, the Big Green's outdoor courts were blanketed in snow.
by Tilman Dette / The Dartmouth

Varsity practices relocated to indoor venues and sporting contests were cancelled, postponed or moved to other sites. The baseball team has yet to open its home season and the sailing teams spend more time traveling to practice sites than practicing.

April has been an interesting month - at least in terms of weather - for Dartmouth this year. First there was snow, then came hail, and in the end we were left with incessant rain. When the sun finally came out, at first it didn't stay long enough to dry the mud on the ground.

Dartmouth's Director of Athletics Josie Harper, who has been with Dartmouth since 1981, remembers only one spring storm more terrible than the "freaky snow storm" that recently hit Hanover - the 1993 Superstorm.

Harper expressed sympathy for the athletes who had to practice and play under adverse conditions but believed that the grounds crew, who she applauded for its effort, was out clearing fields whenever an opportunity presented itself.

"No spring sports team has not been affected by the snow, some teams - like softball, baseball and crew - have it harder because they rely on outdoor practices," Harper said. "But we do all that we can to make it easier for them."

The sailing teams have been driving to Boston or Vermont almost every day this spring, just to practice. Kendall Reiley '09 estimates that some team members spend more than 12 hours a week on the road, excluding any weekend traveling.

"We have not yet been able to practice at our site and we are the only school in New England not yet able to practice at home," Reiley said. "Besides the time commitment to driving, having to practice with other schools also impacts us because we cannot do the drills that we want to do. Instead, we have to work on whatever the host school wants to work on."

Stephanie Gagnon '10 recounted the sailing team's traveling experience in greater detail, noting the two-hour drives to Boston and the 90-minute car-rides to the University of Vermont when Lake Champlain thawed. The teams would often leave at noon and return as late as 9 p.m.

"It's been hard keeping up with homework, being gone for that long. But in order to stay competitive, we need practice time. And because of the cold weather, the only way to get it has been to drive," Gagnon said. "All of the other teams we compete against have a practice site that they are able to practice on, so we are the only team that has been driving so far just to practice."

Nolan Reis remembers a conversation he had with members of the women's team.

"Sometimes the weather is too bad to even do that [travel to Boston or Vermont]," he said. "I talked to a few girls from the women's team about a particularly bad attempted Boston practice. The entire trip took them seven hours and they only got an hour of sailing in due to adverse conditions in Boston. There is hope that we will get to use the top third of the lake this coming week - the water in front of our boat house is still frozen."

Mascoma Lake, the site that the Dartmouth sailing team calls home, "continues to have over a foot of ice on it," Colin Treseler '09 said.

"It is difficult because coming into this spring we were ranked number one in the nation," Treseler said. "Holding that position has been difficult with the inability to practice."

"We are one of the teams on campus most impacted by the weather. Even now that it's warm out, we are still unsure when the ice will go out," Reily added.

In spite of the weather, the women's and co-ed sailing teams remain nationally ranked in the top 10.

"We are a very tight-knit team, and so far have worked hard to overcome what the weather has thrown at us, but it's definitely been a lot of extra work and time this spring," Reiley said.

The baseball team is among the teams that have been hit most unkindly by the snow. Unlike the tennis teams that have the luxury of playing on indoor courts, baseball players have had to practice in Leverone and endure the difficulties of playing baseball indoors.

The inability to practice on Red Rolfe, coupled with losing several key players earlier this season, has taken a toll on the team's record. The baseball team, which finished 20-19 last season, won only two of its last 11 games.

"Not only do they lose that home field advantage, they are also traveling twice as much," Harper said in defense of the team. "Traveling is very tiring - both psychologically and physically."

"Some non-league games have also been cancelled," Harper said. "It is inevitable. The natural fields are so saturated, and rescheduling games are hard."

Much like baseball, softball has also had to adjust to practicing in Leverone's limited space and facing game cancellations.

"[April snow] has meant much less time practicing on our field at Sachem and much more time in Leverone," Angela Megaw '08 said. "This puts us at a disadvantage because there are a lot of things that we cannot work on unless we are outside. Also, the ball bounces off the turf in Leverone much differently than it does off the dirt or ground - making situations unrealistic."

According to Megaw, most mid-week games have been cancelled this season. However, Megaw noted that her team has been "lucky to have gotten in our first home games in early April before getting hit by the bad weather."

"The baseball team's schedule is opposite ours so the weather affected their game schedule more than it did ours. They were forced to travel in order to get their home Ivy games in," she added.

Also sharing Leverone are the men's and women's golf teams. Because the Hanover Country Club has yet to open due to the snow, golf teams are forced to find creative ways to practice indoors.

"Golf is a difficult sport to practice indoors. We hit balls in Leverone but we have a tough time practicing our short game," Tory Sheppard '09 said. "Leverone also has quite a few scheduling limitations since many spring sports had trouble practicing this season."

Sheppard recounted several bad weather spells that have been cast over her team.

"Last weekend at Cape Cod, the second day of the tournament was canceled due to the weather. Since we cannot practice up here in Hanover, we were hoping to get some playing time. But the poor weather followed us to Massachusetts," Sheppard said. "I cannot complain about the weather at this moment, but it's too bad the sun came at the end of our season."

Although many spring teams faced immense difficulties in finding the right location and the right time to practice, other teams see the snow as a great motivator to practice even harder.

"Dartmouth probably has the longest winter training season of all of the schools we race, but I think we use it to our advantage," Kate Davison '07, a member of the women's crew team, said.

After the teams traveled to Tennessee for their spring training trips, they returned to Hanover, spent a week on ergometers and in the tanks, then went to Boston for a four-day weekend trip to train on water.

"We were able to get back on the water the second week of the term, with only the occasional iceberg getting in our way," Davison said. "Since then, the river has been manageable."

"While we had several cold practices, it was actually rather beautiful being out on the river in the snow. Sometimes the snow made getting the boats up the dock tricky, but really, I think that rowing in cold, wet conditions only made us tougher," Davison added.

Abe Clayman '07, a member of men's heavyweight crew team, had similar sentiments.

"The rain and the snow were not a problem for rowing practice," Clayman said. "Once the river unfroze, we were psyched to get on the river regardless of the conditions. Sure, we'd like it to be sunny and 70 every day but we know we don't row in California and rowing in the snow has its perks."

The tennis teams also found the snow to be a rather small obstacle to overcome since Dartmouth has a state-of-the-art indoor tennis facility that the tennis teams used at their convenience.

"We played our first three Ivy matches indoors," David Waslen '07 said. "And when we play at home indoors, we usually do very well."

"But it's tougher when we travel because we aren't used to playing outdoors," he added.

The lacrosse programs also found optimism in the midst of unpleasant weather.

"Although the weather up in Hanover is somewhat of a constraint, I think, in fact, it can be an advantage for our lacrosse team," said Whitney Douthett '07, who recently broke the school record in assists. "We play in 10-degree weather, in snow, and in rain. [The poor weather] makes our team mentally stronger than some of the other schools."

"And I think this mentality transfers to other Dartmouth teams as well," she added.

While Douthett believes that practicing under harsh conditions trains her team to overcome greater obstacles in games, she recognizes some of the restrictions that the snow has put on team practices.

"There is only one indoor arena - Leverone - and often times teams are practicing at nine or 10 p.m. at night. In addition, it is a smaller space and is not sufficient for some of the drills that our coaches would like to run," Douthett said.

One remarkable trait about Dartmouth athletes comes out in light of the nor'easter. Although others may be inclined to blame less satisfactory performances in games on the circumstance, Dartmouth athletes have learned to embrace the challenges, overcome them with optimism and work harder still.

"I don't think the weather has affected our season or the results of our games," Douthett said. "If anything, it has made us physically and mentally stronger and has taught us to deal with adversity."

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