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High School Sports: Falling back into place for county teams

Wednesday was Liberty's High School's first day of football practice August 9, 2017.
Wednesday was Liberty's High School's first day of football practice August 9, 2017.(KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO)

Liberty senior lineman Josh Ruehl would walk around the house in his helmet and shoulder pads, anxiously waiting for the first day of fall practice.

Ruehl and fellow senior lineman Zach Morris, a Times first team all-countian in 2016, were more than happy to return to the practice field on Wednesday, which marked the first official day of high school sports practice.

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"It's not just us, but I know everyone else is excited to be here," Morris said. "We know all offseason we've been lifting, getting hyped, getting ready and we're here now, ready to hit."

The Lions participated in a series of drills and sprints under the direction and supervision of coach Larry Luthe and his staff. Football is a mental sport, Luthe told his players at the end of practice, a sport played with confidence and speed. The more confident you are, the better you'll be, he concluded.

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The 2016 Times Coach of the Year led the Lions to the team's first outright county title since 2000 last fall and a third consecutive season with seven or more wins. The start of a new season, like turning the page of a new book, is one of hope, promise, and progression.

"I said this a couple years ago — it's the best day, everyone's undefeated," Luthe said with a laugh. "When you've been around the sport a long time, it's like Christmas morning for me because I don't have to work as hard as they do. You're excited, you want to see how much the kids have developed over the summer, how much the older kids have retained and who's going to be the one to step up and groom the younger kids, their growth as human beings as well as football players.

"You kind of see the fruits of your labor, you start seeing kids that develop and that's what you want to do as a coach."

The unknown is exciting at the start of a new practice season and it's an opportunity for players to step up in situations where the depth could be necessary. Luthe said the Lions can expect to get acclimated to the offensive strategy, including conditioning to give them a mental aspect of the game before they start practicing with pads and contact.

"We just have great people," Ruehl said. "Underclassmen coexist with the upperclassmen that have almost taken that role that the seniors had last year and stepped up to not exactly fill those shoes but fill in for what they can do. Maybe that's something different than what a Spencer Kirin could bring last year where a McClain Butler brings something different this year, you never know."

Century's girls soccer team hit the first day of practice in full swing as well.

There are positions the Knights need to fill, coach Sara Figuly said, and the next few days will give her and assistant coach Dyron Johnson a chance to see who works well together and who best fits those particular roles.

Figuly, the 2016 Times Girls Soccer Coach of the Year, said she is "pleasantly surprised" with the amount of talent she's seen on Day 1.

"We always have a strong program and with graduating 10-11 seniors, there are a lot of girls that are stepping up to fill those positions," she said. "It's exciting."

Senior defender Kaylee Titus and junior midfielder Emily Rusk agreed.

Micaela Wolcott and Kaylee Titus battle for the ball during the first day of Century High School girls soccer practice on Wednesday August 9, 2017.
Micaela Wolcott and Kaylee Titus battle for the ball during the first day of Century High School girls soccer practice on Wednesday August 9, 2017.(KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

"I've been looking forward to this ever since last season ended," Rusk said. "It's so much fun to be back out here with everyone and I'm so excited to start the season again."

The Knights have won five consecutive county titles — they split it with Manchester Valley in 2014 — and advanced to the Class 2A state semifinals the last two years in a row. The girls prepared themselves for a grueling few days of tryouts, due in part to a summer workout program Johnson created.

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He also incorporates a lifting program for the girls, Figuly added.

"It's very noticeable," Titus said. "These are some of the best times we've ever had for the mile, it keeps us very fit."

The girls split into two groups on Wednesday and competed in a series of scrimmage-like drills, changing out in a rhythm every few minutes. Figuly and Johnson watched carefully, analyzing the girls as they played in colored pinnies.

"The most important thing is to watch them play...," Figuly said. "We look for hard work; we look for people that are doing what they're supposed to be doing when we're not paying attention, somebody that is just constantly giving 100 percent."

mwoodward@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-7893

twitter.com/mwoodwardCCT

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