Spring training never felt so cold
Spring training facilities are funny things. The Los Angeles Dodgers have Dodgertown, a subsection of Vero Beach, Fla., with convention centers, restaurants, hotels and sports facilities. On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes multiple teams share one ballpark for their spring training needs. If those teams in the park-sharing situation think they have it tough, talk to UW softball coach Chandelle Schulte.Schulte’s squad is in the middle of its own “spring” training, despite it being the middle of winter. The Badgers are a victim of circumstance — a team playing a warm-weather sport in a cold weather climate — and are playing a difficult tournament schedule that starts in one week. Because of that fact, the softball team has been practicing indoors on the turf field of the McClain Center.”We try to get the most out of every minute that we have,” Schulte said. “The minutes here are really precious because there are so many teams that need to share the facility. You really don’t have any time to spare. You need to go at [practice] and go at it hard.”That was evident at a recent practice. As softball players finished up, football and soccer players were doing individual workouts and several members of the track team were also training. For Schulte, the indoor preseason practice dynamic was one of the biggest adjustments she had to make in her first year with the Badgers last season. Schulte came to Wisconsin after stints at College of Charleston and Charleston Southern, two schools that have never dealt with the cold-weather issue at the beginning of the season.To help her team get a better start on the season, Schulte made a couple changes. First, she added Julie Wright, a coach with experience running indoor practices at Kansas and Akron, to her staff.”That has helped a lot,” Schulte said. “It has allowed me to focus more on hitting. … I think the kids have gotten a lot more instructional time this year.”That instructional time has not just been a product of another coach. In a new twist this year, Schulte summoned the team back after the first of the year for an intensive mini-camp. The all-encompassing mini-camp consisted of sometimes four practices a day focused on physical conditioning, skill work, team building and mental preparation. All told, the 12 hours a day took a toll on the players.”It was mentally and physically exhausting, but it was a way for us to work together and come together as a team. It has paid off so far, so it was worth it,” senior pitcher Eden Brock explained.According to Schulte, the benefits from the mini-camp are tangible.”We got more done in those four days than we did in four weeks [last year],” Schulte said. “Right now, we’re farther ahead than we were at the end of March last year.”The improvements have not been limited to the physical realm.”It was killer on our bodies, but it definitely showed us how strong we were and how much we could push through,” senior centerfielder Sam Polito said.As is the case with any preseason — professional or collegiate — spring training is a time where positional battles are hammered out. According to Schulte, most of the positions have been settled, but three starting spots remain up for grabs: Third base, right field and second base still remain unclaimed. Four players — juniors Katie Hnatyk, Ricci Robben, and Athena Vasquez along with freshman Katie Soderberg — are in the rink fighting over those three spots.The wild card in the group is Robben, who sat out all of last season after being declared ineligible. Schulte noted that Robben had been “playing really, really well” and that she expects Robben to make an impact both in the field and at the plate this season. Wisconsin has one final week of preseason preparation before it heads to a Major League spring training destination — Tempe, Ariz. — to compete in the Kajikawa Classic, hosted by Arizona State.