by Michael Smith
Last season, during his first season as head coach, Brett Lewis led the Grain Valley boys soccer team to a Class 3 District 8 Tournament Championship.
It wasn’t a bad year for Lewis, who was previously an assistant to former head coach Tyler Nichol. This year, there will be higher expectations for the Eagles as they have 20 seniors on this year’s squad.
Last week, the boys team participated in a four-day camp to sharpen their skills for the upcoming fall season and help the coaches prepare to assign positions to the players.
During last week’s camp, Lewis had 35 to 40 players participate and he expects around 50 to be at tryouts in August, which is about 10 more than he had in 2020.
“Our camp is like the preseason before the preseason,” Lewis said. “It’s a time for the coaches to see some guys and let them get into game situations.
“I told the guys, ‘It’s super important for you to be here.’ This gives our first glimpse of what they look like in 11 vs. 11 scenarios. Once Aug. 9 hits, I want to have an idea where everyone is going to play.”
The camps have also helped players get back into shape.
“We have been doing a lot of fitness,” Grain Valley senior Micah Siems said. “We have been working on footwork and getting our touches down. We have been doing a lot of passing drills to see where everyone can play.”
Because of the increase in numbers, Lewis said some players will have to be cut from the team. Last season, he didn’t have to make any.
“I told the guys, ‘We lost five seniors and we are going to have 12 to 15 freshmen coming in. And it’s going to be a lot more of a competitive process.’” Lewis said.
The preseason camp helped prepare the players for tryouts and they got to hold their annual World Cup Tournament, a series of intrasquad scrimmages. The players were divided into six teams and got to choose what country they wanted to represent. Six nets were set up on the west and east ends of the field at Moody Murry Memorial Stadium.
“It’s pretty competitive because the winner gets donuts,” Lewis said. “You even see them wearing the colors of the country they are representing.”
Added senior Gage Levell: “It’s a lot more fun than doing a dribbling drill or something like that. It helps us get sharp for game-time scenarios.”
This offseason has been a lot more favorable than 2020 as the restrictions for the COVID19 pandemic have been lifted and allowed the Eagles to hold their version of the World Cup Tournament. Last season, the players didn’t get to start working with the soccer ball until July.
The Eagles also had to wear masks, which made it more difficult to breathe when running up and down the soccer field. They also had to do drills in smaller groups as the player had to social distance. Now with the vaccine rollout slowing the spread of the virus as compared to 2020, things are back to normal for Lewis and his team.
“We were unsure if we were going to be able to play,” Siems said of the 2020 offseason. “Wearing masks was hard for everyone because it’s so hot. This year is nice because we started early and got our workouts in, and no masks.
“Last year, some kids had to go to the sidelines and take the mask off because it was hard to breathe.”
Grain Valley will begin the 2021 season and will expect even more success after a successful 2020 campaign.
“They are hungry to go even further this year. We have some lofty goals,” Lewis said. “We can go out and accomplish those goals if we work hard.”
One of those goals is to win the Suburban White Conference, a league in which the Eagles missed out on first place by one game.
“We had a really good shot at it last year,” Levell said of winning the conference. “We had some players in quarantine last year. We had a two-week span of that. We should have a good shot of winning it this season.”
Photo credit: Michael Smith