There is new energy at Lakeland Union High School and that can be pointed at the soccer fields as boys’ soccer team began its season Monday.
A new season brings hope, and a new coaching staff, for these Thunderbirds as they set off in search of a conference championship. Like most teams do, practice began with a run around the practice soccer field, followed by some stretching.
The basics were being worked on for the day. Players paired up and stood apart from one another where they practiced their touches.
“Today’s practice is trying to get the kids acclimated to our new program and also introduce our freshman who are just coming in,” assistant coach Daniel Ratajczyk explained. “It’s all fresh and new for us even as coaches. We’re going to step in and try to do the best we can.”
Ratajczyk and fellow assistant coach John Tharman ran practice Monday with head coach Ihor Myshchyshyn out of town for the first day. The trio replaces interim coaches Stephanie Hartzheim and Rhonda Maulson, who stepped in after Julian Beltran was relieved of his coaching duties during the middle of last season.
At practice Monday, the team worked on a proper first touch on the ball — a small kick with the laces or the top of the foot. One player would toss the ball and the other would kick it. They alternated left and right foot as everyone got their turn to practice.
Sometimes the ball went right back to their partner and other times it went over the head and across the field.
Once that was solid, the outside of the foot was worked on. Again, someone would throw the ball into the air and the other player had to hit it with the outside of their foot.
All of these touches seemed simple, but they were necessary so coaches could start to evaluate and form teams.
“I think we want to get a sense of the talent coming in as freshman,” Tharman said. “I really want to get a handle on the junior and seniors and hopefully we can rate the players and start establishing rosters for JV and varsity.”
The next exercise with their partner was trapping. One player threw the ball in the air and the other would trap it with their feet, keeping the ball at bay.
Coaches emphasized throwing the ball high enough to allow players to get an efficient trap without letting the ball go far.
The next trap they worked on was with their chest. Players threw the ball even higher so that their partner could get underneath the ball and set it down right next to them.
“Right now first touches are to be desired so we got more in store for them for ball skills,” Ratajczyk said.
No soccer practice is complete without passing. Passing was worked on next as one player would pass the ball. Their partner would receive the ball with one foot and pass with the other.
It was a series of pass, tap, pass where coaches emphasized moving their feet to get the best and most direct pass possible.
“Biggest thing is going to be conditioning,” Tharman said. “I think we’ve been on a lot of them throughout the summer to try and stay in shape and get ready for the season and we’ll see if they’re ready.”
The rest of practice continued their work of ball skills. Different drills were set up to emphasize these ball skills so coaches could continue to evaluate the player’s skills as the season began.
LUHS opens play at home against Three Lakes/Phelps in a non-conference game Aug. 29.
Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]