Winter is synonymous with snow, Christmas and … lacrosse?
This year, perhaps more than any other, the coldest season and a sport which crowns a national champion on usually the hottest day in May have been linked arm-in-arm.
Since Feb. 1, when Delaware hosted High Point and Lehigh traveled to Furman, the first two weeks of the regular season have been highlighted — or lowlighted depending on your point of view — by frigid temperatures, blustery winds and other adverse conditions.
On Thursday a winter storm that moved up the East Coast forced No. 12 Penn State to move Saturday's home game against No. 14 Loyola indoors to Holuba Hall, Richmond to shift a home contest against Hartford from Saturday to Sunday to allow the Hawks more time to travel to Virginia, and Division II Limestone to play against Queens University of Charlotte two hours earlier on Tuesday to beat the advancing storm.
The marriage of lacrosse and winter weather prompted Maryland coach John Tillman to joke that he and his peers should "take a college class on climate and meteorology and things like that."
Playing lacrosse in February is a recent trend that occurred as programs joined conferences and reserved room in their schedules for games against league opponents and conference tournaments.
And with coaches opting to avoid midweek games, the only avenue left is moving season openers into early February.
Count Johns Hopkins' Dave Pietramala as one coach who is not enthused about the pattern.
"I would love to see the lacrosse calendar change," he said. "I would love to see us with a start date for practice on Feb. 1 and I would love to see us with a start date for games on either the last weekend of February or the first weekend of March. And I'd love to see us move the Final Four back [from Memorial Day weekend]. I'd love to see more lacrosse being played in warmer weather for everybody, and I'd like to see the most important lacrosse — the tournaments and playoffs — being played in good weather and when kids are out of school."
Playing games in wintery conditions can impact the players, too. The hollow metal that make up the shafts of today's lacrosse sticks are not as flexible in the cold and break more easily. And the cold can make it more difficult for players to properly stretch their muscles, leading to more injuries.
"I do think you have to be careful if you're going to start this early," said Tillman, whose team played on Feb. 8 which was the earliest season opener in the program's 89-year history. "You've really got to manage what you do during the week."
The chill and high winds can discourage fans from turning out for games, Loyola coach Charley Toomey said.
"It's definitely going to be a more of a challenge for the fan base," he said. "You're asking fans to show up in 30-degree weather. It's going to be hard to ask people to get out there at that time of the year."
But while the coaches worry over the trend, players don't seem to be as concerned. Johns Hopkins senior goalkeeper Eric Schneider said he doesn't mind the cold.
"When you get out there, your adrenaline's pumping," he said after the Blue Jays' 10-9 triple overtime decision against Ohio State on Sunday. "You don't really feel it, but I was wearing sweatpants today just to keep myself warm. And when the ball's in the other end, I'm just constantly moving my feet."
Mount St. Mary's junior defenseman Kyle O'Brien said moving the start of the season later would just mean an extended preseason.
"I like starting earlier so we can start playing games and it's not just practice, practice, practice," said O'Brien, an Arnold native and St. Mary's graduate. "Once you do warmups and the first quarter starts, your adrenaline is pumping. So the heat starts going and you don't feel the cold at all."
There is the matter of the sting of getting hit by a ball or stick lasting longer in the cold, but Jeff Fountain, a Timonium native and St. Paul's graduate who is a senior attackman at Georgetown, said every player knows a few simple rules to remedy the pain.
"Don't rub it, don't touch it, leave it," he said.
There is also a school of thought that just as football players have to deal with the dog days of summer, lacrosse players must persevere through winter. UMBC coach Don Zimmerman is one proponent of learning through adversity like weather.
"Lacrosse has always been a sport where you go out there in the preseason, and it's tough," he said. "But I think that's what makes lacrosse, lacrosse. The guys understand that you go out there and it's going to be cold and the weather's not going to be conducive, but you have to fight your way through it. I think you go out there and you have a good practice in tough conditions, and you go into that locker room and you've grown and you feel good about that as a player. Maybe you've done something that not everybody can do."
For as many coaches who are in favor of altering the schedule to open the season later rather than earlier, Toomey is realistic enough to know that changing the status quo will be a monumental task.
"I think the only way you can really do it is move the calendar back and have the Final Four after Memorial Day, and I don't think that's an option," he said. "Do we as coaches agree to play more midweek games? That's certainly a thought process, but I don't see this changing."