Kylie Peterson went to check on the outdoor track at Apple Valley High School on the first day of "spring" sports practice, March 13.
She stared at a mountain of snow. Her thought? "We're not going to be outside until maybe mid-April," she said.
Peterson was an all-state sprinter at Apple Valley and an All-America athlete for the Gophers, so she knows how unaccommodating weather can be for spring sports in Minnesota. Her patience has limits, though.
Now the girls track and field coach at Apple Valley, Peterson went to examine the track again this week. She figured there might be a lane or two cleared of snow thanks to a string of sunny but cold days, perhaps enough for her athletes to run outside.
Minnesota delivered another kick to the shins.
The track was still completely covered in snow. And this godforsaken winter had added a sneer: A snowbank blocked the track.
"It makes me question," Peterson said with a laugh, "maybe we just need to move."
She was joking. But the sentiment is likely shared by many.
Coaches across Minnesota are fed up along with her. Schedule disruptions and indoor practices are a way of life for sports that compete in this part of the calendar. It's an annual rite of inconvenience.
But this year … whew, this one has been especially cruel.
At least an inch of snow was measured at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for 116 consecutive days ending March 25, the ninth-longest streak since 1899, according to the National Weather Service.
Also, the temperature at MSP has not reached 50 degrees since Nov. 26. That makes it the first March since 2001 that we didn't hit 50.
"Our first outdoor meet is supposed to be Tuesday," Apple Valley boys track coach Zack Roble said. "Probably not going to happen."
Forget actual live competition. Coaches and players are eager just to get outside to practice. They are tired of fielding grounders in gymnasiums, running laps on indoor tracks and hitting golf balls in simulators.
The fall and winter prep sports seasons often get romanticized in Friday night football and March state championships. The image of spring sports is teenagers shivering on a field.
"The spring season is kind of the forgotten season because it is so short," Peterson said. "Weather impacts everything."
Spring sports require participants to be efficient with their time, creative in their preparation.
Go to high school gyms throughout Minnesota right now and you'll find a procession of teams practicing. Baseball, softball, track, golf, badminton. The crammed schedule allows no time for lollygagging.
Afforded plenty of experience with weather inconveniences, teams scheme clever workarounds.
The Mounds View baseball team took grounders on the football field's artificial turf a few days ago. Players used their feet to kick snow that remained on half of the field into large piles, then used bases to fling the snow out of the way. Presto. Infield practice. Never mind that the temperature was below freezing.
"There were weird hops left and right," senior captain Tanner Hoemann said. "It wasn't very true turf yet because it was still pretty frozen."
Minneapolis Southwest golfers have been working on their grips and swings while waiting for courses to open. Indoor practice facilities are jam-packed this time of the year. One facility offered to provide Southwest a time for the team: 5:30 a.m.
"That is not a realistic option," said assistant girls and boys coach Sean Keir, laughing.
Keir coached Washburn's golf teams for eight years before moving over to help at Southwest. His goal is to introduce the sport to as many Minneapolis kids as possible. Many of his golfers are beginners. He figures his golfers will get five weeks on the course because of the late start.
"You're fighting the battle of, how do you get a kid to go from never having swung a club or hit a real golf ball to being able to play on a course, and in five weeks that's a challenge," he said.
Weather is a yearly crapshoot. Last year, track teams practiced outside on the track on Day 1. This year is a waiting game.
Complaining won't melt snow faster, so they prepare best they can.
Many schools have indoor tracks inside their gyms. Apple Valley lacks that amenity, but the school created a compromise: a hallway near the gym outfitted with a rubberized floor that has track lanes painted on it.
The surface allows athletes to wear track spikes, practice hurdles and sprint from blocks.
Throwers practice in an auxiliary gym. The space is not large enough to throw a discus, but rubber balls filled with sand simulate a real shot put.
Jumpers and pole vaulters rehearse their steps and techniques in the gym.
The track hallway is the focal point, 55 meters long with student lockers on each side. It's not perfect, but Apple Valley coaches know they have it better than some schools.
"We can run for five seconds in one direction without having to stop," Roble said. "We're trying to get them prepared for when the snow melts. They don't have a two-week buffer period."
School officials have their fingers crossed that a two-question bond referendum passes May 9. It would add activities centers, with indoor tracks, at four schools in District 196: Apple Valley, Eagan, Eastview and Rosemount.
The idea of moving golf season to fall has long been discussed statewide but other spring sports face weather disruptions, too.
"Every sport can't be in the fall," Southwest's Keir said.
So they improvise. They find different ways to prepare for competition. They show toughness.
Apple Valley's track athletes held practice in their parking lot earlier this week. Cold? Add more layers.
Triple jumper Ahjaya Buckner has tips: "I usually wear a Dri-fit long-sleeve under my jersey. Then for warmup, I have another long-sleeve, a sweatshirt, another sweatshirt, a windbreaker."
Here's the encouraging part: Apple Valley's participation numbers in track and field have multiplied. The boys team has 120 athletes in Roble's first season as coach, double the number of last season. The girls squad has 78 athletes, three times more than it had coming out of the pandemic.
"Even though we're not outdoors, I still get the same feeling," said senior Mohamed Jeylani, a 400-meter runner. "I'm with my teammates and we're all still having fun indoors."
Take that, miserable winter weather.