The sports season is on hold for the student-athletes of Junction City High School until March 22, but before the district closed all activities, the girls soccer team was hard at work preparing for their upcoming season at Al Simpler Stadium.
Coach Mitchell DeHoff said the pre-season workouts have been good and he is just glad to be back on the field after taking the winter season off.
“I enjoyed my break in the winter, but I always miss it and the second I come out here, I’m ready to play,” he said. “So, I'll be excited to get things underway. We've seen a lot of progress over the first kind of two weeks here. (We've) got good numbers coming out over spring break. The main thing for us is just gonna be how much can we improve every day — can we focus on the things that are gonna make us better? And then taking those incremental steps will help us find success and season.”
On Thursday, the team was working on defending skills while under pressure and attacking the goal while running. Both skills the team will work on if they look to improve on their four win season from last year.
For the returning players, the wins and losses of last year will give them the motivation to push harder to improve, DeHoff said.
“As a team, we feel there are a couple games in there that we let get away from us that we had the chance to win,” he said. “But, I think the the main thing from year to year basis is how are we competing in games. We play some of the best competition in the state of Kansas. Girls who've been playing together for probably since time they're 6 or 7 years old.
“So for us, it's going to be a lot about how well do we compete,” he added. “Do we focus on the things that we can control and bring our best in every game. And I think if we do that, that's kind of where our margin for successes is and in the games where we have a chance to win if we do that, I feel like we're going to come out on top more often than not. In the games where there might be a little bit more of a gap between the other team's ability and our own, that competitive nature will allow us to hopefully compete in those, keep them close and maybe snag a couple ones against some of the better teams that we play.”
This season found more players interested in the sport, DeHoff said.
“We had about 60 interested about 50 came out — it’s the most that we've had in the last four years, so since my first year as the head coach,” he said. “It’s good to see that much interest in the program. We never really like making cuts — there's good and bad to it. If we had more games and more coaches, we certainly want to keep more girls and get them interested in soccer but, it's good to have that much interest. And then the group that we have, they're really excited to be out here — they work hard, they get after each other every day, and they're just pushing each other to get better.”
Unfortunately, cuts have to be made, he said.
“Kind of the message we give to everybody is, we do a lot of things during the offseason that are open to everybody,” DeHoff said. “So, thanks for the interest. We appreciate the hard work that they put in over those three days and come join us over the summer and don't lose your passion for sport. Find something you're interested in and just go after it the next year.”
Over the break, the team averaged nearly 30 players out for the two-hour sessions, something DeHoff said excited him.
“It's great to see,” he said. “I know, as a school, we have a lot of people who go a lot of places over spring break — to see an average kind of turnout of 25 to 30 over the course of spring break is really good. It just kind of a sign of how dedicated the girls are to get better and how much they enjoy being out here.”
The team was scheduled to showcase their skills to the community during their Blue-White Scrimmage March 23, but with the current health crisis that could be in jeopardy — as well as their season if the Kansas State High School Activities Association follows suit with the NCAA in cancelling the spring sports season.
The team will travel to Manhattan March 26 for their season opener, the first of three road games to start the 2020 season. The Lady Blue Jays home opener is scheduled for April 6 against Wichita-Southeast at 7:15 p.m. at Al Simpler Stadium.