High school teams wrestle with return to play

Published 12:38 am Sunday, February 2, 2014

Wintery workout: Nansemond River High School track and field athletes Brandee Johnson, left, and Kara Lyles follow coach's orders, exercising even though school was out. (Toy Redding Photo)

Wintery workout: Nansemond River High School track and field athletes Brandee Johnson, left, and Kara Lyles follow coach’s orders, exercising even though school was out. (Toy Redding Photo)

With only a few exceptions, Suffolk public and private school sports teams have experienced an unexpected, weather-induced multi-week layoff in the middle of the winter season and now need to regain their competitive bearings.

The Nansemond-Suffolk Academy girls’ basketball team is a particularly striking example of this, and it comes with what appears to be a special season on the team’s hands.

The Saints moved up to No. 2 in the latest Division II state poll released by the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association and currently stands at 9-2 overall. Unfortunately, the team hasn’t played since Jan. 14.

Email newsletter signup

The Lady Saints have missed five games and have only practiced three times in the last two weeks because of winter weather. The team’s head coach, Kim Aston, said her players have made efforts to keep in shape in the down time.

“They’ve been doing things at home, jump-roping, doing exercise videos,” she said. “There’s some stuff that you can do, but it’s not the same as being out running on the court.”

They snuck in some shooting practice Saturday morning, hours before their first game back, played at home on Saturday evening against Walsingham Academy.

Later, Aston discussed her team’s return to the hardwood.

“It’s going to be tough, because not only have we not practiced, but now we’ve got to come back and play eight games in 12 days,” she said.

The contests will be crucial, as they represent the team’s entire regular-season conference schedule.

Aside from the games themselves, the time in between will be difficult with, again, no time for practice, and a need for players’ bodies to recover quickly.

“I guess everybody’s in the same boat, so we’ve just got to get through it,” Aston said.

It will represent a major opportunity for some players to step up, as two of the Lady Saints’ top bench players are sidelined. Junior guard Bridget Murphy tore her anterior cruciate ligament, and junior forward Sarah Higinbotham is sick.

Nansemond River High School track and field coach Justin Byron talked about how the weather break affects his athletes.

Indoor track and field is so heavily focused on building athletes so they are peaking by season’s end that any significant interruption can have consequences far greater than some might think, he explained.

“Missing two weeks does not necessarily put me two weeks behind,” Byron said. “It could possibly put me six weeks (behind).”

Aside from competitions missed, the pivotal building sessions in between that help yield new personal records at the meets have been missing, too.

“We’re not getting the domino effect,” Byron said.

“The most detrimental issue is the training plan,” he said. In August, he lays out the plan for his athletes, which covers the entire season. It is not day-by-day, so there is room for slight delays, but “there’s just no adjusting for a two-week layoff.”

However, he has still been in communication with his athletes, telling them to shovel snow, trying to keep them active. He even sent them outdoor workout instructions.

“We had a full workout in the snow,” said sophomore Brandee Johnson, who was joined in the endeavor by junior Kara Lyles on Friday.

The schools are nearing conference championship time, but Byron looked at the positive side, like Aston at NSA.

“The flip side is that it’s not just snowing at Nansemond River,” he said. “All the coaches have to try to make an adjustment.”

Lyles expressed confidence that Nansemond River would return to the track and be successful.

“I know we can do what we need to do,” she said. “It’s just a mindset you have to have. You have to have a good mindset about it.”

The Warriors competed on Saturday in Hampton at the 2014 Atlantic Coast Indoor Invitational.