Teams get back to work to achieve goals, dreams

As high school practices officially got under way last week, hundreds of local athletes got back on Cabarrus County's fields, gyms and trails getting ready for their season.

Jay M. Robinson's soccer team was hard at work during their first week of practice, running around in the afternoon heat playing small-sided games to find the combinations that will best work for the Bulldogs this upcoming season.

Andrew Alvarado, a senior goalkeeper for the Bulldogs, said he was excited about getting practice started.

"I haven't been playing that much since last season, so I was more than ready to get back on the field," he explained.

After spending the summer working on individual conditioning and playing indoor soccer at the school's auxiliary gym, Robinson coach Michael Hoke had his players run conditioning tests at the beginning of practice and tryouts to see who had stayed in shape during their time off.

This time of the year can be important for teams not only to get in shape, but also to grow together and improve.

Robinson captain Michael Dalton, a senior midfielder, said the beginning of practice also allows the team time to find talent, especially as the Bulldogs only return seven starters from last year's 20-3-1 team.

"We lost a lot of key players, so we have to fill those spots," he said.

Dalton said the team's newcomers can also use this time of year to adjust to the coaching staff's disciplined mind-set and practice schedule.

Hoke knows there's work to be done if his team is going to go back to the top of the South Piedmont Conference, although he sees the work needed to be done as a positive.

"There's a big opportunity for some of these kids to step it up," he said.

Hoke said the competition that players see for playing time even before the season can be significant.

"That gets them focused," he said. "They also take that competitiveness into the season."

Dalton agreed.

"That's what gets us going - the competition between the players," he said.

At Cabarrus County's newest high school, the Cox Mill volleyball team was busy spiking and setting balls in a crowded gym.

First-year Chargers coach Julie South, who was an assistant on last season's 7-15 team, has focused her practice on fundamentals, especially going over rotations and their offense and defense as a whole.

She has also used this time to go over the team concept before games get under way.

South knows how important pre-season practices are.

"This is the only time that we have the players' complete focus before school gets started," she said. "Once they get back to school, they have 8,000 things on their minds."

Teams will wrap up their scrimmages this week, as they prepare for their first regular season games and embark on the road to achieve their season's goals next week.

Hoke, the only coach in Robinson history, said he has high expectations for his young team.

"We're looking to get into the playoffs, and we want to get out of conference as a first-seed," he said. "We want to go as far as we can; hopefully we have a shot at winning a state title."