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Soccer programs preparing for unusual summer

Last Thursday, the Mississippi High School Activities Association published guidelines for summer athletics to start on June 1 as part of the resumption of athletic activities.

Now county soccer programs are moving forward with unique, safe practice plans to make sure their athletes are able to grow and develop over the summer.

Poplarville Girls Soccer

The Poplarville Lady Hornets soccer team is ready to get back to work.

Beth McShea, head coach of that soccer program, said the first couple of weeks will be focused on conditioning.

The athletes haven’t taken part in any organized workouts with McShea since schools shut down two months ago due to the effects of COVID-19.

In order to make sure there aren’t any injuries, the plan is to gradually increase the intensity of workouts, which fits into the acclimatization period mandated by the MHSAA’s new guidelines.

“They’ve been out for two months so it’s going to be a slow process. After a couple weeks I think we’ll be able to start doing more drills, depending on if any state guidelines change,” McShea said.

Another restriction on summer activities put forth by the MHSAA is that squads from different schools are not allowed to play each other.

Those games are an integral part of a team’s offseason plans because it allows coaches to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their squad before school starts.

McShea had multiple players graduate, so she said the summer competitions would’ve been an important source of experience for the new players filling those voids.

“It’s always huge because it allows varsity kids to get used to running formations without the kids that just graduated. It’ll have a big impact because that was our main summer plan was going to camps, and playing games and seven on seven tournaments,” McShea said.

The restrictions placed on the program and the uncertainty surrounding how the rest of the summer will progress has McShea analyzing her team’s position for the fall.

In the past, the first couple weeks of school would focus more on conditioning than drills or scrimmages.

However, with the ban on competition still in place, alongside the uncertainty of when contact will be allowed, McShea is wondering if she’ll have to alter her fall plans.

“Now we’ll have to come back in the fall and focus more on drills and scrimmage time than we (used to),” McShea said.

McShea was relieved she held her middle school tryouts prior to schools closing because it’s one less thing to worry about heading into summer activities.

There are a few players who are looking to join the varsity squad that McShea will let join at some point, if she’s allowed, but for the most part her teams are set.

Having those teams established will allow the middle school, junior varsity and varsity programs to practice in groups come June 1.

Getting everybody up to speed, especially for the athletes looking to make the varsity team, will be the priority this summer.

“I’m just going to play it by ear, but maybe in July they can come out. Maybe by then it’ll be more ok to do full team things and see how they do with the high school kids because I didn’t get to have high school tryouts,” McShea said.

Pearl River Central Soccer

Joe Weems is the head coach of the girls and boys soccer programs at Pearl River Central High School. He said the emphasis this summer will be on talent development.

Both teams are young and need the summer months to continue honing their skills.

To do this Weems is planning on having his players go through numerous agility drills, and stations containing specific aspects the athletes need to work on.

This will give team members the ability to work on specific areas that need improvement, while also breaking the team up into smaller groups.

Splintering into groups will be a common occurrence this summer due to the guidelines put in place by the MHSAA, so teams will have to adapt to the new training sessions.

“The summer is going to be more or less about getting everybody refocused and back on their feet,” Weems said.

The ban on competitive matches means Weems’ players won’t have the opportunity to play against other varsity squads.
However, that was never a major part of Weems’ plan due the inexperience of his team.

Young players need all the touches they can get, and when facing opposition those opportunities are limited.

Instead, Weems is planning on having his players really focus on themselves and improving without the need to take part in competitive match ups.

“Players were getting so few touches in games it wasn’t productive. (Instead) I can put them in a controlled environment and they can get hundreds of touches. (The ban on games) doesn’t really affect us or what we like to do,” Weems said.