This is the first of a two-part series on how high school soccer will look different in 2020 with the added focus on conditioning and foot skills, in addition to no scrimmages and one district game for seeding purposes.
High school athletics have been on KHSAA’s Segment 3 since June 29 and that means a whole lot of conditioning and skill work.
So, what will that exactly look like when sports are slated to begin competition on Sept. 7?
High school soccer players will have gotten in more conditioning and foot skills than what seems like the last three years combined.
“It will be really interesting to see how the athletes respond to game play,” Meade County boys’ coach Matt Pollock said. “Theoretically, if coaches have done proper training the players should be physically prepared and conditioned to prevent injuries. But, there is a difference between being in shape and being in ‘game shape.’ It’s hard to replicate that until we go live in practice.”
Live in practice begins Aug. 24.
“Going into the season having the opportunity to focus on foot skills and conditioning I believe you will see a quicker game with improved ball skills all around,” North Hardin girls’ coach Chris Smith said. “Given the time to focus on just those aspects of the game has been immensely beneficial.”
The KHSAA Board of Control meets on Aug. 20 to continue with what’s in place, extend the delay or nix it all.
“I think the game will be played with more pace and physicality,” newly named Central Hardin boys coach Austin Varela said. “Over the last six weeks, we’ve been hard at work with ball work and overall fitness. Assuming that other schools did the same, I expect each game — especially Districts — to be highly competitive.”
Coaches expect the game to look different, and what that means varies.
“Considering nobody has played for 300-plus days any real soccer, it may look a little sloppy initially until everyone gets used to ‘game-like’ touches in real game scenarios,” North Hardin boys coach Jim Stone said. “I don’t think it will seriously affect the game. Like riding a bicycle, once the boys have a chance to experience soccer again, everyone will be rusty, so to speak, but they will quickly adapt. Now, boys who never practice basic foot drills and skills will be the ones who benefit most from this and we may see better touch from them — just not enough to warrant any kind of ‘wow factor.’ Ho-hum will be more likely.
“Boys who have great touch on the ball will still have it and those who play soccer for fun only and lean towards another sport will still most likely be mediocre anyways. From youth to pro, doing something for eight-plus weeks will never take the place of being able to go live against one another. Soccer, like all sports, requires game speed repetition to make any meaningful changes.”
Elizabethtown boys’ coach Corey Yates had a brutal schedule for his two-time defending 5th Region Tournament champions.
They were slated to play Lexington Catholic, Daviess County, St. Xavier, Ballard, Louisville Trinity and Kentucky Country Day, in addition to the 17th District gauntlet.
“It might look different for other teams, but we are planning to play, look, and compete at the same level as we did last year,” Yates said. “No one is going to be playing a non-district schedule like we have, so there is going to be a lot more than conditioning and foot skills in preparing for that type of competition.”
Heading into that competition, though, will also be new as only instrasquad scrimmages are allowed.
“I think the game will look different this season, just because it is hard to gauge your team when you have no preseason scrimmages to look at players and what works and doesn’t work, and not having an opportunity to put them in pressure play due to having ‘no contact’ until Aug. 24th,” Meade County girls coach David Craycroft said.
“That’s the one thing I am nervous about,” Pollock added. “Coming back with an inexperienced team it would be very beneficial to get a couple scrimmage games under our belt, but everyone is playing by the same rules so we will have to adjust quickly when the time comes.”
While Varela is new to the head coaching position, it is his fourth season with the Bruins.
“With there being no scrimmages, we’ll have to dedicate a considerable amount of time to high intensity, game-like drills,” he said. “Everything from smaller transition scenarios to full field simulations. Fortunately, from a competitive standpoint, we’re all on level playing fields this year. As a team, we’ll just have to stay resilient and adapt to our playing field.”
Central Hardin is senior-laden, so that will help Varela in the transition.
The Panthers are the same.
“I think most years might affect our philosophy slightly, but this is the most senior team we’ve had in a very long stretch, and we will be business as usual,” Yates said. “It doesn’t matter if they are in great form or not at the beginning of this short season, they have the playing maturity to make up for the lost time to get to postseason form. Honestly though, the boys are hungry, I just hope we get a chance to let them off the chain.”
The North Hardin boys get Central Hardin, a team it beat in the 17th District Tournament semifinals last year, in the second game of the season.
“Based on how the schedule falls, we have one ‘warm up’ game prior to our first district match,” Stone said. “So that’s going to be crucial so that we quickly realize our strengths and weaknesses and train hard the day in between contests. Leaves very little room for making improvements — but we also realize the other team will be in the same boat as us.”