October has arrived in Massachusetts.
As students preoccupy themselves with pumpkins, candy, Halloween decorations and the flurry of color in foliage, cold temperatures have slowly begun to grip the northeast. For most, this time of year means little more than adding an extra layer when going to class in the morning, and changing back into a t-shirt later on when the weather warms up.
For the Massachusetts field hockey team, the stakes are much higher, and weather could play a pivotal role in how the season ends.
When the Minutewomen take on Lock Haven on Friday, Oct. 8, the weather will be less than favorable. Accuweather.com is predicting temperatures hovering around 50 degrees with sustained periods of rain and winds at 18 miles per hour.
Rain is typically not a problem for the Minutewomen, and is sometimes even welcome. With an artificial turf field, it needs to be wetted down constantly to keep it from drying out. Built-in sprinklers coat the field in water before every game and at halftime, creating an ideal smooth playing surface. If the turf gets too dry, the ball can hop and skip unnaturally and cause problems for both teams.
“We have a water-based turf and it makes the ball run flatter, faster, and smoother,” UMass coach Justine Sowry said. “It provides a fast free-flowing game. It keeps the ball down and makes it a safer game. We like it but the more wind and rain we get, it can get interesting.”
While rain alone won’t be much of a problem, combined with cold temperatures and high winds it could wreak havoc with the players and make it difficult to perform even the most basic of functions on the field.
If the temperature is low enough, it can slow down the mobility of hands and fingers and decrease the ability to tightly grip a stick, something that is essential to shooting and, in particular, dribbling the ball. Without a proper grip on the stick, players can see errant passes and shots, and sometimes lose grip on the stick altogether. Some athletes choose to wear gloves for a better grip, but if it’s raining, like it is forecasted to on Friday, they are of little help.
Let’s not forget the ball. According to USA Field hockey, a standard ball is about 160 grams of pure hard plastic. When temperatures dip in the cool New England weather, the surface of the ball hardens and striking it with a hard plastic stick is not always the most comfortable activity.
“It shouldn’t affect them, but I think it does mentally,” Sowry said. “That’s something that we’ll really try to pay attention to. We certainly can’t control it; we’ve got to play with it.”
The Minutewomen have six more games left on their schedule before the start of the Atlantic 10 conference tournament. Five of them will be played here in the northeast, and three of those five will take place in Amherst. With weather conditions in New England notorious for changing at less than a moment’s notice, UMass will have to find a way to stay focused on the game at hand and overcome the elements, should they come into play.
“It’s just a matter of staying focused,” Sowry said. “Staying focused on the game plan and focused on sticking to our style of play and really supporting each other off the ball. We’ve just got to stay mentally tough.”
Michael Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.