Katie Grenier was cold and getting colder. The senior defenseman for the University of Southern Maine women’s lacrosse team couldn’t pretend she was warm any longer. She started to shiver.
Tuesday’s steady wind and freezing temperatures drained the blood from Jacki Kelly’s face. “I don’t know why they call lacrosse a spring sport,” she said. “Feels like winter to me.”
She and her teammates had to pick their way through the dirty snowbanks to reach the turf at Fitzpatrick Stadium for their game with Husson. Clouds moved to block the sun, the American flag rippled steadily and the digital numbers on the dashboard of my car read 36 degrees for the start of the game at 4 p.m. Two hours later it was 32.
The city of Portland hadn’t turned on the water in stadium restrooms for fear the pipes would freeze. USM did not allocate money to lease several hot air blowers for the sidelines. Who expected a winter’s freeze that won’t end?
“You just keep moving,” said Kelly, a senior midfielder from Brunswick. “Fast feet.”
April is a week away, daffodils are for sale and the Red Sox are about to leave spring training in Florida for the start of the major league baseball season. The calendar says spring officially arrived last week but you’re still donning layers of clothes before you leave the house and the wood pile for your wood stove is all but gone.
The men’s and women’s college lacrosse teams in Maine are already five games or more into their schedules. They’ve played in temperatures in the 20s and a wind chill that felt much colder.
Relatively speaking, Tuesday was balmy.
“We’re numb now,” said Kelly. “It doesn’t matter how cold it is.” Yet she wakes up in the morning and hunts for a weather forecast. She thinks more of how cold it will be rather than how warm it will get.
Lacrosse teams are typically the first on Maine’s fields. Tuesday was USM’s home opener. Maybe 50 people sat or stood in front of the press box that sheltered those inside from the wind but was unheated. Funny, but fathers and mothers and boyfriends and classmates and a couple of coaches from other sports who came to show their solidarity chose seats and standing places away from each other.
Oh, for a hot cup of coffee or cocoa. With the water turned off, the windows to the concessions remained tightly closed.
USM scored quickly and often against an undermanned Husson team. “Adrenaline helps keep you warm,” said Rosie Forster of Andover, Mass., a senior captain and midfielder.
But as the USM lead mounted, the adrenaline rush went away. USM won 16-4 for its second victory of the season against four defeats.
“You don’t want to lose the feeling in your hands,” said Grenier, from Oakland. “You’ve got to be able to hold your stick.”
The bitter cold can sear lungs in a game that’s played virtually nonstop. The steady cold wind at Fitzpatrick can tighten muscles and ligaments. “It felt like we were playing in a wind tunnel,” said Grenier. Her younger sister, Sara, a player at Messalonskee High in Oakland has committed to a Division II scholarship at Florida Tech in Melbourne. She wanted out of Maine’s so-called springs.
USM would have played its home opener on its Gorham campus. A stubborn patch of ice on a portion of the field dictated otherwise. Overnight refreezing has been the big problem.
Baseball and softball teams, and a few lacrosse teams from Maine’s colleges did escape to Florida over spring break to play their games in warmth. This year the USM women stayed home, practicing in the field house. That can get stale pretty quick.
Native Americans in the Northeast, particularly in the St. Lawrence River valley, played lacrosse. It could be a brutal game. Unlike the men’s game, there is minimal contact in women’s lacrosse. That doesn’t mean it’s played with less intensity.
Forster, Grenier and Kelly don’t play for attention or the smattering of fans. So it’s cold. So it’s the coldest cold they’ve experienced. So what?
“We play for the love of the game,” said Kelly, not meaning to sound trite. “This is a great group of girls. You want to play for them.”
Hot showers awaited them in their off-campus apartments. Standing under the steaming stream from a showerhead is still the quickest way to warm up, even if it means emptying hot water tanks.
They picked up their stuff and headed to cars in the parking lot. USM won the game. The next snowstorm apparently will sideswipe Portland and Gorham. They felt warmer.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or: