Camdenton, Mo. – "There is always a choice about the way you do your work, even when there is no choice about the work you do," Camdenton's coach J.D. Hunter's voice boomed out across the turf field on Monday afternoon.
The Lady Lakers ran through a few drills before heading to the line to run, as they partnered up to run 1,800 yards with the sun shining and a breeze rolling down the hill.
In the sporting world, that's all anyone needs to see to realize that spring is here.
"It feels really good to be back at practice," Coach Hunter said. "It seemed like a long winter, and we started off with a snow day, so we were ready to get started, and we just didn't think we were ever going to get to, and when we did, it was kind of bad. But days like today gets us all kinds of fired up."
"It's awesome to start up the season again," Danica Brewer said. "It's definitely hard in the beginning, but it's getting better and better."
"Just stepping on the field is a great feeling," Grace Scheidemantle added. "I'm really excited for this season and what we're going to accomplish as a team."
Camdenton's girls soccer team is excited to be back and playing soccer, but the team is anxiously awaiting the day they get to move from the practice field's turf to their beloved grass field.
When the four seniors of Grace Scheidemantle, Morgan Henry, Danica Brewer and Whitney Snow were asked if they were anxious to get back on the grass field, all answered, in unison, with a resounding "Yes".
"We're staying off of it for one more week," Coach Hunter said. "Our maintenance department is really good and helpful, and the more we can stay off of it, the better off it will be in the long run. Also, districts will be on a turf field, so the more practice we can on the turf, the more we'll be prepared."
Districts will be at Waynesville this season, and the Lady Lakers want to make a return to the championship game, and win the district title, as the last time the Camdenton girls claimed that honor was in the 2011 season.
Last season, the Lady Lakers were a Class 3 powerhouse, led by the scoring prowess of senior Miriam Taylor. The team finished with a 16-7-1 record, and the only thing that kept them from a district title was being in the toughest district in Class 3, as they fell to Jefferson City in a 3-2 heartbreaker in the district championship game.
This year, there's a lot going on already for the Lady Lakers.
With the loss of two starters in Miriam Taylor and Megan Weber, some shoes have been left to fill on the field. As of now, there are four girls vying for the position of goalkeeper.
"You play 11 at a time, so there's a spot for all of them," Coach Hunter said.
And Coach Hunter expects the team to transition to a 4-back set, instead of the more aggressive and faster 3-back.
"It seems like I say this every year, but yes, we are going to make some switches," Coach Hunter said with a laugh. "Based on some of the people we have and the loss of Miriam (Taylor) and Webby (Megan Weber), we're going to try and change our formation and put some people in different spots, thicken up in some areas and stretch out in others. We'll just see how it goes, but for now, it's fun. I think the players get a kick out of trying the new stuff."
The team may have lost some great players, but returning is two first-team All-District and All-Ozark-Conference midfielders, Whitney Snow and Morgan Henry. With them the team also returns second team All-Conference defender Allison Smith, All-District Honorable Mention Danica Brewer and the All-Conference Honorable Mention Scheidemantle sisters, Grace and Faith.
There's a lot of talent left over from last year's squad, and that is being combined with a large incoming freshman class to put together this year's squad.
"We've got a really nice freshman class and group of move-ins, and we've got a few girls coming back out that haven't played for a while, so we're really excited," Coach Hunter said.
For now the focus of the Lady Lakers' practices are more about conditioning and getting first touches.
"We haven't gone to the goal yet," Coach Hunter said. "We're breaking everything down as small as we can to try and get our overall team philosophy down of how we want to attack the ball and keep in shape. Cardio has to be a priority in this sport, and they have to be able to run and breathe and think at the same time, and they don't seem to get that until the matches start. We just want to work hard any time we can."
"I feel like the key to our success is our conditioning," senior Whitney Snow said.
"We're known for being 'scrappy'," senior Morgan Henry said with a laugh. "We couldn't be our normal selves if we weren't in good shape."
Though it's not new to most, the thought remains that this is the last season for Coach Hunter, as he will no longer coach the girls after this season after taking an assistant principal job with Camdenton.
Coach Hunter thinks that his eventual leaving will be an after-thought for the girls, saying their focus is on winning this season for their seniors and the drive for that district title once again.
"We haven't talked about it very much, because I really think we're more dialed in with this group of seniors and the pressure they put on themselves," Coach Hunter said. "I've been around for so long now, that they're fine with everything. They're more worried with getting their seniors out in style. And they're probably tired of me ranting and raving, anyway."
But everything they're focusing, all of the work and effort they're putting in is with one thought in mind: winning districts.
"I think people are going to be surprised with us this year," Morgan Henry said.
You've been warned, folks.