F lorida seems to be the consensus choice as a destination to beat the snow and cold while gearing up for upcoming Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference matchups for Gannon spring sports teams.
The University of Tampa baseball team has the luxury to play year-round in its warm Florida climate, so it’s not that much of surprise that the Spartans were able to capture the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II national championship last season.
Gannon’s spring sports teams do not have the same benefits of a team in the south, and the Knights are forced to brave the elements. Erie winters can be cruel, and no one knows it better than the athletes practicing outside on a snow-covered field.
Becky Hilker, a sophomore attacker on the lacrosse team, said winter in Erie can be brutal.
“One of the biggest problems with playing a spring sport in Erie is the unpredictable weather,” Hilker said. “You can never be sure what will happen in the sky during that two hours of practice.”
The Gannon University grounds crew undertakes the responsibility to clear the snow from Gannon University field for teams to practice, but many spring sports teams are sent inside the Carneval Athletic Pavilion for training due to weather conditions.
Hilker said she wasn’t pleased with the lacrosse team’s unfortunate practice schedule.
“We are supposed to be practicing 3-5 p.m. on the field, and we did for the most part until it became unbearably cold,” she said. “Now we are practicing 10 p.m. to midnight because of intramural sports that claim the court from 6-10 p.m., and baseball has practice from 3-5 p.m.
“As a varsity team in season, we get less priority over court time than an intramural sport.”
Jeff Bellanca, a junior catcher on the baseball team, said any time that the weather is not below freezing and the field is clear, the team will head out to the diamond for fielding practice. He said the team can accomplish a great deal indoors in terms of batting and throwing, but there is no replication of fielding on the Gannon diamond.
Bellanca lit up when asked about the baseball team’s spring training trip to the Sunshine State. “Absolutely, nothing better,” Bellanca said. “Two games a day in the nice weather; it’s a real nice change from being up here.”
The baseball team takes off Friday for Winter Haven, Fla., to compete in 10 games in an eight-day window. The destination has a fitting name, offering Gannon athletes a safe haven from the cold.
Baseball coach Nate Cocolin said harsh weather conditions halted the team’s two pre-spring training doubleheader series in Petersburg, Va., and Washington, Pa. He said he is looking for his players to get their feet underneath them and grow closer as a team.
Bellanca and Hilker said their teams come together and bond while traveling and getting ready to play their respective sports.
“Florida is definitely a big team-building experience,” said Hilker refering to her team’s upcoming trip down south. “It is the first trip we take with the freshmen and as a new team.
“It makes us into a family because we suffer through the bad times, celebrate the good and we get to experience the enjoyment of relaxing after it’s all over.”
Beaches, sunshine and spring training games help Gannon teams get ready for their upcoming seasons. The Gannon Athletic department also needs to change the lacrosse team’s indoor practice schedule.
The Knights are in season, and it is simply ridiculous that these women are subject to staying up past midnight for training purposes.