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Weather delay puts damper on USA CUP opening day

07/16/2011, 1:06pm CDT
By Alex Hauter

 Extreme weather in July is nothing new to Minnesota, but the presence of thunderstorms or high heat still throws a wrench into tournament scheduling. The Schwan's USA CUP, presented by Puma, got off to an auspicious start Friday morning as lightning, thunder and heavy rains came rolling into Blaine, prompting a five-hour delay in opening-day play.

As a result of the storm, tournament organizers lost morning and lunchtime time slots before play finally resumed shortly before 2 p.m. The delay prompted shortened and rescheduled games in a push to make sure every team could play the group stage in its entirety.

The best laid plans, as they say.

So while players, coaches and spectators milled through the Puma World Store, played cards in doorways and splashed through puddles across the National Sports Center's 600-acre campus, stadium headquarters filled up as tournament staff and volunteers were forced to begin rescheduling games only 25 minutes after they had begun.

Tournament director Steve Olson said the fast-developing thunderstorm forced USA CUP staff to quickly go back on the decision to move forward with the first set of games. With lightning strikes within eight miles of the NSC, a shutdown was inevitable.

"There was a lot of infilling in this storm that we didn't expect. The weather forecast didn't include any of this. We have a meteorologist, a live guy, we can talk to, who said the warm front moving in is bringing a lot of instability," he said. "From the time I got in my car for about a half-hour drive, we went from the weather people saying, 'This will not affect the Twin Cities,' to having a severe thunderstorm watch on until one o'clock to having a severe thunderstorm warning for western Anoka county."

Even as the lightning from that storm was subsiding, the high volume of rain turned Friday morning and early afternoon into a waiting game. As referee scheduling coordinator Bill Roll watched the radar and various weather forecasts, campus operations could only speculate about the state of each soaked field, turning the onus of the weather delay from lightning to standing water. Even before the storm had subsided and the all-clear was given, the NSC's turf crew had gone field to field, tasked with determining whether fields were safe and playable after nearly two inches of rain fell in Blaine on Friday.

"The idea is if you have standing water, it's just not safe; the secondary issue is how much damage you're going to do the fields from here to the end of the whole 10 days that we're playing here," Olson said. "The volume of [the storm] really took it to our fields. We had a conversation in the morning where we said we might get to a point where there's no lightning and it's still pouring rain and the fields are not playable, which is pretty much what we got."

Roll seconded the notion that the biggest hurdle for the tournament going forward was the water. Ultimately, many games were postponed until Saturday, leaving all day Sunday for playoff rounds. The changes will mean shortened games for some teams, but Roll said it was better than the alternative.

"The other option was to bump an entire playoff round, but we felt it was more important to make sure teams get the full experience," Roll said. "We understand it's a big inconvenience to wait around, and it's hard on us not knowing what the weather will bring." 

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Tag(s): July 16, 2011