The North Hardin boys’ and girls’ soccer teams enter the 2020 season with a ton of confidence.
And for good reason.
The boys are fresh off a 5th Region Tournament semifinal appearance after starting the season 0-11-1.
“I feel that once we figured out who we were and once we got a win and we finally started getting some momentum, this group is ready to win. They’re hungry,” veteran coach Jim Stone said. “Record aside, this group is, I think, mentally tougher and hungrier than they were last year at this time.
“I have to senior captains and two other seniors, but they want to be different. I’ll be honest, I think with the COVID and everybody just sitting around, I think they were like, ‘Let’s get off our butts and do something.’
“Plus, the two senior captains (Xavier Domenech and Nic Sanders), they’re just really good leaders. They’ve taken charge. They said, ‘Let’s go’ and the underclassmen have followed them.”
The girls finished with a winning record for the first time since 2015 and beat Elizabethtown for the first time in forever.
“We’ve got four-year varsity starters as seniors this year,” Coach Chris Smith said of Riley Thompson, Niyah Jones, Ramyiah McFadden and also mentioning three-year starter Shelby Thompson. “We’ve got the leadership. We’ve got the continuity in the program that we’ve been wanting. Those girls are at that level now where they’re looking back at the freshman class saying, ‘Hey, you guys are very talented. Yes you played JV last year, but only because you had to. Now it’s your time to come in and be the contributing factor that you know you are.’
“They’ve already started to lead those girls. It’s a beautiful thing to watch when you know that they’re talented and they’re starting to feel that they’re talented. They’re really taking into that light that, ‘I’m going to contribute to a bigger, more successful year than North Hardin’s ever seen.”
Both coaches talked about the importance of bringing their players along slowly after the sporting world shut down mid-March because of the pandemic.
“We’re just trying to get their legs under them,” Stone said. “We’re just trying to get them in shape. We’re just trying to put miles on their legs. I think they could all say after the first week that their legs are back.
“I had a core group of 15 to 20 that were running Freeman Lake in March, April and May. They really stepped up their fitness.”
The Lady Trojans return top scorer in junior Kiara Loggins (25 goals, 10 assists) but lost their next five offensive weapons via graduation. That totals 44 goals and 28 assists.
“The first week of this we did a lot of light work, mixed in a lot of stretching, a lot of active stretching,” Smith said. “We mixed in more conditioning as they progressed, making sure their bodies were building in the proper way — rather than getting after it after so many months off.
“We’ve got a lot of multi-sport athletes and these girls have been working a lot. Everybody’s got those few who didn’t do a whole lot and that’s understandable. But, for the most part, we’ve got a lot of girls that were continuously running. We’ve got great parents that really pushed them through this and said, ‘You’re gonna have months off on end, but you’re not gonna sit in the house and do nothing. You’re gonna get out and work. You’re gonna be prepared.’
“If you prepare yourself, you’re preparing your team at the same time. It’s been nice for us, so far.”
Stone and Smith reiterated the use of foot skill drills during the time where sharing the ball is limited.
“We’ve mixed in conditioning with the ball, foot skill drills and things of that nature basically to create the ball as an extension of your foot,” Smith said. “Since you can’t go contact, if we can build that ball into their foot, and increase their conditioning capacity at the same time, that’s the way we’re taking this.
“You’ve got to find the balance and the foot skills are going to be crucial this year and we have that time — because we’re forced to have that time — and it allows us to build those foot skills that the girls are going to benefit from.”
The boys’ team returns four of its top seven goal scorers in Cayden Logsdon, Domenech, Izec Dingman and Sanders.
The third segment begins Monday.
“I’m hoping by the July 15th time frame that we’re gonna be able to start training and playing soccer and not doing this one hour stuff that we’re doing,” Stone said. “The next two weeks, you just add 10 more people and that’s all it is. We still can’t play soccer. We still can’t pass the ball to each other. We still can’t get into formations.
“This is nothing but conditioning for four weeks. Everybody’s gonna get in shape. Everybody will be equally in shape now.”