Heat postponements already putting teams in a bind at start of season

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Girls tennis in the fall is unique as it typically gets a few days at the start where it is the only sport going on in town. While football may start the weekend or two prior, the first two days of the ensuing week are reserved for tennis before the other remaining sports begin.

But the spotlight sometimes doesn’t shine so brightly, and when it does, it is unbearably too hot to play. Last year, rain wiped out opening day. Today, Tuesday, the heat caused postponements and cancellations up and down the Garden State.

In a word, unlucky.

A good number matches still played, but one of the matches that got rescheduled to next week was Ridge at Bridgewater-Raritan. Hopewell Valley’s match against Hamilton West was instead played at 10:00 a.m., and on the flip side, Kingsway at Clearview got pushed to 6:00 p.m.

“Obviously, that makes it more difficult, but it’s kind of fun having more challenges,” Clearview’s second singles Felicity Huang said. “They already canceled our match against Ocean City (on Wednesday) because of the heat.”

“We really wanted to get this one in,” Clearview coach Colleen Senor added. “We have a packed season ahead of us — I think we have 21 matches scheduled — so I don’t want to have to worry about rescheduling a whole week’s worth.”

The NJSIAA implemented a heat participation policy recently and schools are to follow it. The Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) is “a measurement of ambient temperature, relative humidity, radiant heat from the sun and wind speed. When outdoor activities are conducted in the direct sun, the WBGT is the most pertinent to use. Although read in degrees, the WBGT does not reflect degrees of air temperature. A WBGT reading of 92 F may equate to a Heat Index reading of 104-105 degrees F.”

“It was hot. We started at 10 to try and avoid the heat a little bit,” Hopewell Valley coach Dave Burchell said. “We had a trainer out there. As we finished, the Wet Bulb went into the danger zone, so fortunately we were able to finish. It’s been brutal. We’re taking the kids off the court tomorrow and not even practicing.”

Per the guideline, a reading over 90-degrees has the players at “very high” risk for heat stroke, and that activity should be delayed until a cooler level is reached. The reading for the Ridge-BR match was 90.2-91 putting them in the “very high” risk section which is why it was called off. There were near record temperature highs statewide.

“There’s some guidelines that we go by regarding temperatures,” Ridge head coach Chad Griffiths said. “Usually the final decision for a varsity match is made by the home team. For today, that wasn’t us, but we got the call. It’s tough on a hardcourts. We (Ridge) have scrimmages today for soccer and field hockey and they are doing modifications with extra breaks and getting out of the sun. In a real match for tennis, there usually are no extended breaks and ability to get out of the sun. Those kind of heat rules have been in place the last couple years, but really just for practice. It hasn’t come into play for matches, but we always do what is best for the girls and boys, whoever is playing. It’s about being safe. That’s the most important.”

Ridge was expected to unleash its new lineup that has it ranked No. 5 in the Preseason NJ.com Top 20. That’ll have to wait, and it is unclear when the Red Devils and other teams across the state will get a chance to play. Not everyone cancelled their matches, but it is actually going to be even hotter from Wednesday-Friday per Weather.com. Whether teams are to play will be based on the WBGT readings. It’s a bonafide heatwave.

Then, of course, there are chances of rain over the weekend.

“You gear up all summer to play,” Griffiths said. “We have or had three in a row with Bridgewater, Westfield, and then Hunterdon Central. It was going to be a challenge for three straight days and we were geared up to play coming out of Labor Day. It’s kind of a let down. Nothing gets postponed unless we know for sure, but if matches are cancelled today with the heat and heat index for tomorrow and Thursday set to be just as bad if not worse, I’d imagine they could be. Plus, there’s always the threat of rain at some point.”

Because the girls tennis season is so short with the cutoff date for state tournament seeding just only over three weeks away on Sept. 29, losing matches means losing time. With power points deciding the team tournament seeding based on the top eight matches, teams could be in a crunch to get makeup duals in.

“Everybody is worried about power points now and I don’t even have eight matches on my schedule. I always worry about playing too many matches in a row — heat or no heat,” Griffiths said. “Some of the matches can be really competitive and long. It can affect team seedings. We used to always do what was best with seeding and for most part got it right. Now we have to worry about power points, and I’d hate to overload my girls’ schedule to the point where we are over-played and over-scheduled just to make the power points calculations work out what is best.”

For postseason play, 10-point tiebreakers are to be played in lieu of a third set. During the regular season, it is at the discretion of the coaches whether a complete set or a tiebreaker are to be used. There is no formal rule. A team who only has one match of a week on a Thursday might be playing another team that already played two or three times. That puts Team B at a disadvantage.

It is still summer, so it is no surprise that it is hot, but the extreme temperatures have already caused some issues.

“If we had a 10-point tiebreaker instead of a full third set, it would be much more palatable to push forward that kind of schedule,” Griffiths said. “We practiced to do 10-point tiebreakers and now a few days before the season, it’s been decided to play out a third set. It’s a different scenario. Teams prepared for the new rules and all the USTA tournaments use breakers. And now with this situation where we are going to have to make up matches, I don’t want to play a full third set multiple times in a week. It will kill the kids. That’s a long week come October when they are playing on weekends too. There’s the academic side of it as well, and they should get home at a reasonable time.”

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Contact Chris Nalwasky at cnalwasky@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ChrisNalwask

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