Waking up at 5 a.m. isn't easy, but the Nikiski girls soccer team did just that on a recent Friday, trading a day in school for a four-hour bus ride to Anchorage and a two-hour match in The Dome, after which they turned around and rode the bus back home.
The day trip was one of three to The Dome for the Bulldogs, who like most Southcentral high school athletes are getting ever-closer to playing outdoors. The last layer of ice has almost melted off Nikiski's home field. Of course, a little help was required to speed the process.
"We had to have a dozer come in, and the snow berm was higher than the dozer," Nikiski coach Mandy Adair said. "We have a 15- or 20-foot berm on both sides of the field."
Spring may be in the air, but winter is still on the ground. Thanks to a record-breaking winter that brought more than 133 inches of snow to Anchorage and heavy snowfall to other southcentral locations, many are battling cabin fever longer than anticipated.
"It's just the frustration of the kids that's tough," said Anchorage Sports Association softball director Don Brooks. "They've been in the gym so much, they're chomping at the bit."
Softball players have been fielding grounders in the gym since early March. Soccer players are bouncing headers off walls indoors. Track and field athletes are throwing the discus across parking lots.
Brooks said the prospects for outdoor softball didn't look good earlier last week when he checked to see how much snow still covered Albrecht Fields.
"We measured with a tape measure and it was 20 inches," Brooks said. "Usually we're outside and getting on the dirt about now. If not on the dirt, we're at least in parking lots."
With the city's permission, the association used snow blowers on two fast-pitch fields at Albrecht, where chain link fences allowed workers to blow snow through the fences. Sounds simple enough, but the snow blowers didn't exactly cooperate Thursday. One blew a belt from overuse, Brooks said, and another tossed a pin when it ran into a metal post hidden beneath snow near home plate. Brooks said the snow blowers were back in action Friday and Saturday.
"We might make the 28th if we get some cooperation," he said.
April 28 is the first day for scheduled prep softball games, and Brooks has already declared the season's first five games as not counting toward post-season tournament seeding, just in case any have to be canceled or played under less than ideal conditions.
Soccer teams were supposed to play their first outdoor matches more than a week ago, on April 12. But they are still playing inside The Dome. More than a dozen varsity matches have been either cancelled or postponed since April 12 and more than 20 junior varsity matches have been canceled or postponed. Varsity matches take priority when it comes to use of The Dome's single field.
"The rationale is we have to get varsity games in because of seeding for tournament play," Service High boys soccer coach Dan Rufner said. "It's too bad for JV kids, because they practice just as hard."
Kids and the parents have been understanding, Rufner said, mostly because everyone knows we're dealing with a record amount of snow.
"More disappointment than complaints," he said. "I haven't heard too many grumblings."
The track and field schedule has also suffered its share of disruption. Three of four dual meets scheduled for this weekend were replaced by a six-team spring meet held at Bartlett High and Clark Middle School and a two-team dual meet at Dimond. At Bartlett, shot putters and discus throwers competed in the parking lot, while long jumpers raced down a narrow ribbon of a runway surrounded by snow.
"There have been some major challenges," Cook Inlet Conference meet director Christopher Lisenby said in an email. "The amount of snow fall made it difficult to get snow removal equipment out to the areas that needed it, and then there was nowhere to put the snow once it was being removed."
Many of the high school tracks have been cleared and are available for practices, Lisenby said, but meets require extra room for athletes to prepare and warm up.
Fields are becoming more playable by the day, however, with the Chugiak High and Clark Middle School soccer fields being cleared for action Monday. More fields will surely open soon, leaving all that snow as nothing but a distant memory.
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
Record snowfall helps golf course
At least one summer sport may benefit from the record level of snow. The Anchorage Golf Course usually opens in the first week of May, and general manager Rich Sayers said he doesn't expect to open much later this season. The reason: the snow came early and often this winter. An early and sustained snowfall insulates the ground and keeps it from freezing. Recent soil samples at the golf course showed no ice, Sayers said, always an encouraging sign that course conditions will be good once the snow finally melts.
-- Jeremy Peters