The first practice was Sunday for the Lady Bisons soccer team. From the start the emphasis has been on instruction with a dozen new players on the field.
“We have been pushing harder than we have pushed the last two years, in large part because there are so many new players,” said coach Jon Ireland. “We are trying to get everyone used to playing with each other and making sure they are fit. We don’t have a lot of time to jell.
“They are getting up early. The practices are long. We are making sure they are eating properly.”
Ireland said the heat has not been an issue because of the timing of practice sessions.
“Practices are not all about fitness,” Ireland said. “There is a lot of work on practical stuff and walk-throughs. There is a lot of basic stuff that needs to be addressed before we play.”
Ireland has been impressed with the overall condition of the team, though he admits the freshmen have gone through a huge adjustment in terms of the work load.
“The freshmen didn’t expect it quite like this, but for the most part they came here fit,” said Ireland. “The biggest thing with the freshmen is the speed of play. They need to play quicker.
“The returners came in very fit. And that has been one of the biggest changes in the program. They have finally bought into and understand what they need to do.”
Last year the average time for the Lady Bisons soccer team in the mile run was 6:19. This season the average time for the team was six minutes.
“That’s a huge difference,” said Ireland. “We have some really good athletes in the freshmen class and the returners did what they needed to do this summer to prepare.”
Ireland has been working with two freshmen goaltenders, Erin Zerio and Ally Marler. Freshman defender Katie Wood and freshman midfielder Martika Powe have been impressive in the early outings.
One of the goals of the early morning practices and the lengthy workouts is to develop the mental toughness of the team.
“Some of them are fighting some injuries and soreness,” said Ireland. “They are working hard to get through stuff.
“The weakest thing for our freshmen is that they are not mentally strong. We are trying to put them through a lot of adversity and to wear them down and make them work.”
Ireland told the team this would be the hardest week of work they will experience throughout the season.
“The season is a grind once we start traveling,” said Ireland. “We want them to get used to playing with bruises and bumps. We want them to be able to push themselves even if they want to do it.
“If we can get through this first week everything else will be easier. We are trying to challenge them mentally to push on. It is critical once the season begins that they don’t hit a wall. They have to fight through it.”
The first game of the season is Aug. 21 at 7 against Austin Peay at the Lipscomb Soccer Complex.