Soccer season looking up in second year of program
Already, things are looking up for this year's Eudora High School soccer team. Players from last year's inaugural varsity team remember last year's summer camp and practices. Not only did the humidity hamper progress last season, the practice facility itself was woefully in need of better day-to-day maintenance.
"We walked onto the field and found a number of things that had no reason for being there," junior Tina Clark said. "I remember us having to pick up bricks, metal scraps, wires, and other waste leftover from construction."
This year's soccer camp was undisturbed by unwanted litter. In fact, it was an entirely new experience for the returning players. Second year Cardinal coach Erick Peltzman brought in outside assistance to supplement his camp objectives. Mike Cleary, an instructor for Challenger British Soccer Camps, was on hand one week recently to work on developing the players' fundamentals and understanding of the game.
"We brought in Mike to help the players understand the more technical aspects of the game," Peltzman said. "He's has been addressing everything I could ask for and much more."
At age 22, Cleary is a seasoned veteran of instructing soccer camps conducted throughout the country. After turning professional in England at the age of 16, Cleary has made the transition into coaching and regularly serving as an instructor at summer camps.
"Soccer is like a religion in England," Cleary said. "If you are not playing professionally, then you are still involved, and the coaching is something I really love doing now."
Last year, Peltzman focused on making cardiovascular conditioning the top priority in camp. This year, he opted to use Cleary's presence to help emphasize the aspects of the game he saw players failing to recognize last year.
"He has introduced the concept of communication on the field," Peltzman said. "Something as simple as that cost us a few games last year."
Cleary's professional playing experience and enthusiasm on the field was contagious and helped fuel what Peltzman called a highly productive week of practice. Old habits that players regularly displayed in the past were being dissolved. Peltzman expects the team to become a more ball-control oriented team, replacing the undisciplined offense that highlighted last season's tough year.
"I'm trying to get the players to quit all of this long-ball passing," Cleary said. "There is a tendency in American sports to always want to move forward, but they have to understand that in soccer you may have to move in three directions before you can move forward."
On top of their lack of playing experience, the reality of a co-ed varsity soccer team continues to pose problems. Playing opposing teams composed of mostly boys, the soccer team will likely counter them with a squad that bears a 3-to-1 ratio of boys to girls. Last year's varsity team had a more equal balance of boys and girls, but many girls have told their former teammates that they have no intention of returning for this year.
"Last year, we didn't play together," junior Jessica Stout said. "There is still clear divisions on the team amongst the boys and girls that we have to overcome."
Not only must female players overcome possible intimidation and a lack of involvement from their male counterparts, but the entire team faces ridicule from their classmates in a town and school swept away by football fever.
"I hear from the players all the time saying that they get mocked at school for participating in soccer," Peltzman said. "The way the other kids treat them, the way our field is never up to par with the football team's field -- I can see how they feel like second-class citizens."
The slighted feelings Peltzman and the soccer players face regular basis surfaced again last week. The team was granted half a field to work with as ground crew watered the other half of the field to coincide with the morning and afternoon camp sessions. The soccer field was the only field on school grounds that had yet to be cut. The treatment that the soccer team receives shocked Cleary when it was brought to his attention.
"I was surprised to hear so many of the players tell me about the kind of stuff they go through every day just for playing soccer," Cleary said. "I don't hear about this stuff at other camps I do across the country, and of course I don't hear it in England."
Cleary said he enjoyed the opportunity to work with a co-ed varsity team. According to Cleary, the idea of a co-ed soccer team was unheard of in England. Because his experience lies in coaching all-male squads, Cleary approached the co-ed team the same way he does when working with all-male squads and found favorable results.
"There's no question that the girls out here are more willing to learn and work hard," Cleary said. "Because the team is co-ed, it seems to help drive the guys from losing their competitive edge."
For now, the bricks and other assorted objects that once graced the soccer field are gone, and in their place is optimism that the varsity squad will be turning heads before the season's end. The expectations for the program have been raised, and with it the hope that the learning the players do on the field during summer practice will translate to success on the field in the fall.
"We're going to be challenging teams, challenging for the ball and looking to control the ball," junior Tyler Hartpence said. "We're going to be having a lot of fun this year, but at the same time we are in position to win varsity games. We just weren't ready to take that step last year."
Hartpence's family played host to Cleary for the week that he stayed in Eudora. Like his teammates, Hartpence was thrilled to have had the chance to work with Cleary and be introduced to the European style of soccer. Peltzman is confident that his players will retain Cleary's theories and teachings during the upcoming season.
"We had no fundamentals on the field last year," Peltzman said. "This year you'll see the players not just understand but begin to master aspects of the game. -- passing, touch, patience. The players are going to start putting it all together."