As high school practices officially got under way last week, hundreds of local athletes got back on Lake Norman's fields, gyms and trails getting ready for their season.
At North Meck, soccer coach Paul Kikta already had his players hard at work trying to get his experienced team back into playing shape after not holding team workouts this summer.
"The first few weeks are important for these guys," he said. "It's a good time to gel as a team and get everyone back on the same page."
Forward Patrick Harrow said it felt good to be back to work on the field.
"There's a good vibe around the program," the senior said.
The Vikings, who return 13 seniors from last season's 17-5-2 squad, have high expectations for this fall.
"I think we have a bright season ahead of us," said Harrow. "We've been playing together for a long time and the chemistry is great right off the bat."
But Kikta is more apprehensive, as the team will have to find ways to replace two all-state players, twin defenders John and Will Krentz.
"We have big holes to fill, but I'm hoping that some of these seniors who didn't get much playing time will step up their game," he said.
But Kikta has still set high goals for his Vikings.
"Our focus is to win conference and have some home playoff games and see where it goes from there," he said.
Across town, Hopewell's volleyball coach Rhonda Auman has also set high expectations for her veteran squad. The Vikings return all but one player, 6-2 outside hitter Chaniel Nelson, from last year's 23-6 team that made it to the fourth round of the state playoffs.
Auman said she's excited about the team she will have on the floor.
"I think they're a little bit hungry," she said. "They got a taste of the playoffs last year and I've already heard them talking about going further."
Auman had her Titans spiking, blocking and setting the volleyball inside their home gym while running drills to polish off her players.
She explained that during this limited amount of time that players can focus all of their attention to volleyball, she aims to better her players' all-around game, which to her, means much more than getting them in shape.
"They have to get used to playing together again," said Auman. "They have to get to know each other's weaknesses and strengths."
At both Hopewell and North Meck, the Hough effect is starting to be felt. Auman said she has a brand new junior varsity squad after losing six player to the new Cornelius high school.
"Starting out with a brand new JV team is good in a way, but it's also harder because we now have rebuild that program," she said.
Kikta said Hough's opening also depleted his rosters. This summer, only 30 players came out to try out for the team after he lost nearly his entire Vikings JV team to the Huskies. Kikta said that's a big dropoff, considering that he had 80 boys tryout a few years ago.
"We're losing lots of kids and not gaining any soccer athletes," he said.
Kikta said the Vikings will field a JV team this season, but that could change next season.
Senior forward Hunter Slaton fears a sleek future for the North Meck soccer program.
"I think this is our last real shot," he said.
But Kikta wants to focus on this season and not worry about what will happen beyond. For now, he is just happy to be coaching.
"I'm excited about this season, I want to see how hard these guys are going to work," said Kikta. "Every year is a new challenge."