It’s a conundrum coaches of spring sports programs face at the end of March each year.
“Getting kids to come to practice over spring break has been tough,” Pine Creek boys’ lacrosse coach Dennis Rego said. “I was thinking of ways to avoid that issue. So we decided to take a trip over the break so the team could be together and help us improve on and off the field.”
Not only a trip, but one that took the Eagles to New Mexico for games in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Pine Creek’s baseball program took its annual sojourn to suburban Phoenix for a week in balmy weather against top competition, while Air Academy took its boys’ lacrosse program back to the Phoenix area for a week of clinics and games for the third time in the past four seasons.
In recent years, a majority of prep programs in the Pikes Peak region that at one time traveled afar have decided to reel things in, staying close to home or not leaving at all. Many factors, such as fundraising and losing points in the Ratings Percentage Index — which determine postseason berths — for playing out-of-state teams, have weighed into those decisions.
But for these road warriors, the benefits of getting away still outweigh any cons.
“I think it’s worth it,” 11th-season Pine Creek baseball coach Glenn Millhauser said. “If you don’t do something over break, the kids will go on vacation and league (play) starts not long after we get back. We really sell this trip and make a big deal out of it. If we go to Phoenix, the kids will go, and it’s a fun time. The competition is great, and the atmosphere is wonderful with the palm trees and temperatures in the 80s. It’s a lot of work to pull it off, but it helps us in the end.”
Millhauser isn’t concerned that his team lost three of four games in the Arizona heat, and the first game back in Colorado against Pueblo West on April 1.
That’s because he’s seen it before.
“We’re getting tested big time by teams from California and Arizona who have played many more games than we have,” Millhauser said. “Sometimes, we come back thinking we’re not very good. It can be humbling to play some of those big-time teams.”
Pine Creek has won or shared the past nine 5A Colorado Springs Metro League titles going back to 2010, Millhauser’s second season.
Meanwhile, Ethan Hilberg didn’t see any coincidence between a week of drills and lacrosse games and what transpired April 2 at Pueblo West in the team’s first game back.
“That was the most complete game we’ve played,” said Hilberg, the second-year coach on the Kadets’ 20-2 win. “They’re doing the things we’ve asked them to do, and I really see the team coming together now and really trusting that the player next to them, that he’ll be there to make the next play.”
And Hilberg can thank a week in the desert for helping to make that happen.
“If we don’t do anything, it’s really hard to keep the whole team together for that week, even with practice,” Hilberg said. “We go down there, and they liked the break of getting away and being on the road. We got great instruction with the clinics, played two good teams (one win and one loss), and I really saw the team grow together. Things are going to look good for us moving forward.”