Bulldog fall squads begin preseason with energetic opening practices
SEWARD, Neb. – Preseason training began Saturday morning for a quartet of Concordia University fall sports teams: football, men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball. Between those four squads, more than 200 student-athletes participated on day 1 after reporting to campus on Friday for orientation.
Sixth-year head coach Vance Winter’s squad went without pads as they opened up preseason camp at 10:30 a.m. on the grass practice fields on the east side of campus. More than 130 players graced the field for a positional and drill-oriented morning session that ended just before 12 p.m.
Winter, who spent a great deal of time working with Von Thomas and the quarterback unit, loves this time of year.
“This is my favorite thing in coaching,” Winter said after the first of Saturday’s two practices. “This one-week period of fall camp in terms of coaching, this is one of my favorite things is getting to spend all this time on just football.”
This fall greets Winter’s squad with more buzz than any in more than a decade. As Victory Sports Network wrote in its GPAC season preview, “a follow-up winning season seems likely” for the Bulldogs. Although sloppy at times on Saturday morning, Winter saw plenty of good things that would back up that statement.
“We’re in the installation and learning phases, but our guys are in good shape,” Winter said. “It’s exciting. It’s a good-looking group. I think this is as good of a conditioned team as we’ve had coming in – definitely the returning guys. They’re in great shape.”
Concordia’s roster number is in line with where it was a season ago when it also had more than 130 student-athletes report for camp. The large number makes practice tricky, but Winter says the team’s depth is a strength.
“It’s fun. I think there’s a lot of competition,” Winter said. “There’s a lot of guys that are really coming in in great shape and ready to play. That makes it fun. You never know how depth is going to turn out through a fall camp, but it feels like we have plenty more guys at each position. I feel like we were able to address some things need wise in recruiting.”
The football program will hold a scrimmage open to the public on Saturday, Aug. 23 from 7-9 p.m. It will take place inside Bulldog Stadium.
Twenty-five Bulldog men’s soccer players were active participants in the first training session of the season overseen by seventh-year head coach Jason Weides. The Bulldogs wrapped up their two-hour fitness-based practice at 12 p.m. The team then broke for lunch and was prepared to return to the turf inside Bulldog Stadium at 8:30 p.m.
More than anything, Weides wanted to gauge physical fitness right out of the gate.
“Part of it is just assessing where we’re at fitness-wise,” Weides said just minutes after the conclusion of the opening practice. “Fitness is such a big part of soccer. It’s up to them over the summer. We give them the information on what they need to do but ultimately it’s up to them. Today’s really about assessing where they’re at and then we’re able to make better plans moving forward based on where they’re at.”
The team spent a significant amount of time running on Saturday morning. The most action took place in the middle of the session with one vs. one drills that were conducted at break-neck speed. It was another means of judging physical condition in an energetic soccer activity.
“Overall I think it was a really good first practice,” Weides said. “We had guys who had high energy. Typically when you come in that first day everyone is buzzing around. They’re excited and they’re battling for spots. It’s a highly competitive practice typically. This year was no different. I think our guys played at a good level and showed a lot of energy.”
Concordia will tests itself in live game action in less than a week with a home scrimmage scheduled for this coming Thursday when it hosts Columbus Community College at 5 p.m. The Bulldogs also hold their annual alumni game two days later before officially opening the season on Aug. 29.
The first session for head coach Greg Henson’s Bulldogs looked much different than the men’s practice. Henson wanted his team to relax and have fun on day 1. With 30 active participants, Henson split his roster into four teams for a 7-on-7 tournament.
“The focus today was just to get them on the field, get them playing and get over some of the jitters that come along with the first day of preseason camp,” Henson said. “We wanted to create an environment that was competitive but fun and one they could enjoy. That’s the whole point of the start of preseason, in my opinion, and I think it was successful today.”
While an emphasis was placed on making the opening session fun, it was also a means for Henson to track fitness and see how the newcomers would assimilate. Essentially, the Bulldogs were breaking back in by playing roughly one half of typical 90-minute match.
“We set the tournament up so it was 45 minutes, so they played a half of soccer today, basically,” Henson said. “We’re just looking to see what the freshmen bring to the table and where the returners are. Basically it’s an evaluation period to see where people are from the work they did or didn’t do this summer. Today and tomorrow is really about evaluating where we are as a team. Monday we’ll start focusing on some tactical things.”
Saturday morning’s session, the first of two on the day, was also an important step for those who are returning from injuries suffered last season. It was a good day for captain Katrina Muther, who helped her team to a 7-on-7 title. Muther missed several games in 2013 due to injury.
“Everyone looked good today,” Henson said. “We had one player get a little bit of a knock on an ankle, but right now you want to get them on and off the field healthy. I think Marcie (Sindt) and Jaimi (Stelk) looked good, looked hungry. They played hard. It’s not a long preseason, but it’s a grind.”
Concordia hosts scrimmages this upcoming Thursday and Saturday. It opens the regular season at home against AIB (Iowa) at 5 p.m. on Aug. 29.
With only two seniors on last season’s rosters, plenty of familiar faces returned to the court inside Walz Arena for an opening practice that got started at 9 a.m. on Saturday. Head coach Scott Mattera implemented drills that emphasized basic fundamentals for the majority of the action-based portion of the practice. There were also fitness tests to measure athletic traits such as vertical jump.
“Overall it wasn’t bad,” Mattera said Saturday morning. “Just getting back into the swing of things always takes a couple of sessions. We had some of our older players step up and lead and direct some of the newcomers. The first couple sessions are more about organization and getting the feel back more so than looking for quality. Obviously you want to get to that point where you get quality reps.”
Mattera’s Bulldogs held an open gym of sorts Friday night to kick things off. The scrimmage-style session was viewed by a number of parents.
“We played last night, just open form, no coaching at all,” Mattera said. “It was just pick-up games. There were flashes of brilliance but also some instances of not knowing the system yet and not getting the connections timing-wise. The next two days will be about system orientation and getting everybody in the right spots.”
As the first team to open the 2014-15 Concordia athletics season, the Bulldog volleyball program has just 10 days before hosting Faith Baptist Bible College to begin the regular season on Aug. 26. While that may seem like a time crunch, Mattera believes his team will be ready.
“I’m not overly worried about being ready for that,” Mattera said. “Preseason, we’re still looking at ways to get ready for GPAC. We’ve got a good 10 days. We’ll get 12-15 sessions in in those days and we’ll be ready to go. Most of the returners, this is old hat for them like riding a bike. They’ll be ready to go in two or three days. It’s just the integrating of all the new pieces.”
Fans can get a first look at this year’s team by attending the Blue-White scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 23. It will be held at 1 p.m. inside Walz Arena.
16 August 2014
Senior Katrina Muther
Senior Chris DeFeyter
Junior Claire White
Junior Tait Sibbel