12/2/2012 1:01:00 AM Season Preview 2012-13 Soccer in the winter? Are you nuts? High school players and fans, it's best to bundle up
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier, file In the blowing snow Bradshaw’s German Ayala goes for a header against Camelback on Dec. 1, 2011, at Mountain Valley Park in Prescott Valley. Snow and high school soccer have gone together over the years.
When asking Prescott High School soccer players what it's like to compete in their sport during the cold winter months at the city's mile-high elevation, two responses stand out.
No. 1: Laughter.
No. 2: A tinge of sarcasm infused in their words.
"It's a little chilly," Badgers senior midfielder and co-captain Linsay Collette said in an intentionally understated tone after practice last week.
"You just get used to frozen toes," PHS senior midfielder and co-captain Victoria Sinclair said.
"And fingers," Collette added.
With the 2012-13 prep winter soccer season already upon us, one thing's for certain in December and January when Prescott and Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain high schools' boys' and girls' teams play a majority of their games - it's going to get colder and windier.
Oh, and the white stuff very well could start falling from the sky when they least expect it.
"We practice in the snow," Prescott girls' coach David Wilson said matter-of-factly. "And then of course when the snow's on the field, we have to practice inside and run the halls in the school."
During home games, most of which are played in the late afternoon or early evening at Prescott High's Bill Shepard Field, the Badgers boys' and girls' teams run propane-powered portable heaters on the sideline to keep their hands and feet warm.
Meanwhile, those players riding the bench bundle up and toss blankets over themselves.
Only two weeks ago, Sinclair said the girls' players did sprints during a hailstorm. Brrr!
"Oh, yeah, that was fun!" Collette said with a chuckle.
Surprisingly - or perhaps not so surprisingly because of their age - the girls who want to play varsity soccer at Prescott aren't deterred by the elements.
"I don't think they really think about it," Wilson said. "They're either playing soccer or they're playing basketball."
But there's no denying that it's tougher to kick a soccer ball - and definitely more painful being struck by it - in colder weather.
"It stings, especially when you get hit on the thigh," Sinclair said.
Badgers boys' coach Shaun Shephard said the cold on top of the wind chill present challenges when playing soccer at night in the winter at PHS. It turns out that once January arrives, teams have two opponents - the one on the field and Mother Nature.
"Snow doesn't disappear," Shephard said. "It sits around. You can't get rid of it."
The Badgers boys have nine games in January. If it snows - or even rains - in Prescott, like it did this past season, Bill Shepard Field is covered in mud that can harden.
"The field really doesn't have any chance of warming up, so our field is like concrete," Shephard said. "The dirt is frozen, so it makes it harder to get touch on the ball because the ball just hits the ground and bounces away."
PHS junior striker Jose Rodriguez said during the winter Bill Shepard Field hardly has any grass in the center of the field, so guys have to play the ball more on the wings where there's still some blades.
"Usually if you're going to hit a ball, you have to try to hit it down low," he said. "That way, if it gets any air it won't go that high. On the ground, there are so many bumps, so who knows what the ball's going to do?"
This past January at Flagstaff High, the Badgers boys' team played in the snow and wind on the Eagles' artificial turf field. That was just as bad. Prescott could not play the type of game it wanted to, as the ball slipped and slid uncontrollably across the field.
"Usually we play balls through the outside, chip them, or through-balls, and we just couldn't do any of that in that game," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez added that it gets harder to breathe and boot a ball stiffened by the cold as the temperature drops.
"Your feet freeze up and you have to wear extra clothing," Rodriguez said. "It sucks."
To condition himself for the rough weather in the off-season, Rodriguez typically runs sprints and dribbles a ball at Bill Shepard Field.
"I usually bring my brother out here, or my dad, and we'll play long balls, short passes," he said.
For players' parents, watching a soccer match from the stands in the cold is a much different story.
Attend a game at Bill Shepard Field this month or next and count how many people are in the stands. Odds are, it won't take long to estimate the size of the crowd.
A heavy jacket, gloves, scarf and a small heating unit are often required to maintain any level of comfort.
"A lot of people love to watch soccer, but when it's 30 degrees outside, nobody really wants to come support it," Shephard said.
Sure, during the early spring, the occasional high school baseball and softball game gets postponed in Prescott because of wind and rain. But when it comes to soccer in the winter, the schedule makers would be wise to set aside at least a handful of make-up dates.
"We got like three games canceled (in a previous season), and we wanted to play our next one, so we spent a practice shoveling snow and stomping around in the snow in our cleats," Sinclair said. "So that was dedication right there."
Almost all of the upper-division programs in the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) play soccer in the winter.
However, most of the lower-division squads, such as Chino Valley High School's boys' and girls' teams, compete in the fall because those programs agreed several years ago to make that the time for their season.
Wilson said the upper division programs are locked into the winter because the dozens of teams in Phoenix and Tucson want to play when it's cooler in the lower elevations down south.
In other words, don't expect much to change for the clubs from Prescott and Flagstaff - where it's even colder and wetter at 7,000 feet.
"It's going to stay this way (for the higher-elevation programs)," the coach said.
"If we switched (to the fall season), we wouldn't have enough teams to play," Sinclair said.
For now, here are four simple words of advice for Prescott players and fans trying to enjoy soccer games in the winter: Wear your long johns.
Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2012
Article comment by:
Nothing like home field advantage! Love watching the other teams sit on those aluminium benches and have the life sucked out of them.
Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2012
Article comment by:
I sat through 3 years of winter soccer at PHS and I wouldn't trade those years for anything. It was glorious, huddling together with other parents around the heater that someone had brought, making a trip to the refreshment stand for a cup of cocoa, yelling ourselves hoarse. Wonderful times!