LISBON — Long, humid days under a blazing sun. Players withering in the heat, worked to the brink of exhaustion.

Those are the images most commonly associated with an August practice. But overcast skies, temperatures that struggled to get out of the 60s and a few rain showers greeted the athletes reporting for the first day of fall high school practice Monday. At least, those that knew there would be practice.

“We had some rain this morning, and I think some of the kids thought practice was cancelled because of it,” said Lisbon boys’ soccer coach Dan Sylvester.

Two dozen boys took part in Monday’s morning session. Sylvester expects that number to eclipse 30 when the more typical August weather returns.

Twenty-six girls took the field for the first time late in the afternoon. After a 10-win season in 2009,  to start 2010.

“We’re going to start out getting back to the basics of fundamental soccer, working on positioning and obviously some conditioning,” said third-year Greyhounds coach Jake Gentle. “You don’t want to go overly hard the first couple of days where they could have an injury, but hard enough where they’ll be sore the next day and know that they want to be in shape for preseason.”

Conditioning and fundamentals are common themes shared by all of the sports that got under way Monday — football, field hockey, cross country and golf included. Many teams will start playing exhibition games this weekend, while the real games start Sept. 3.

That gives coaches 15 available days to whip their players into shape, get their teams to jell and evaluate what they have for talent for the upcoming season.

“It’s just getting a feel for what’s there,” said Sylvester, who enters his third year as Lisbon’s boys’ varsity coach. “Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to get skill-wise and for experience, so you’re just kind of scoping things out for a couple of days and getting back to basics.”

One advantage fall coaches have over their winter and spring colleagues is they are only two weeks removed from the end of their summer program, so getting athletes back into the flow of the game isn’t very difficult.

“It let us see what we had to work with and what girls are coming up and what positions they’d fill,” senior defenseman Ashley Fournier said.

“We had pretty good numbers over the summer, in the low 20s for most of it,” said Sylvester, whose team finished 9-6 last year and lost in the first round of the Western B playoffs. “Having the summer soccer program kind of does make it easier to go right into it because the kids didn’t want to take the two weeks off. They were eager to keep on going and hungry to get started again.”

Coincidentally, both Lisbon varsity teams will be undergoing the same transition this season. Both have very small senior classes and both lost the most prolific scorers in the school’s history, Ashley Beaulieu and Marcus Bubar.

 “We’re going to focus on having more of a balanced scoring attack with two or three girls who hopefully can get around 10 goals in a year so we can balance the scoring that we lost from Ashley,” Gentle said.

 The Greyhounds felt nothing but optimistic on a gloomy-looking day.

“We have a few girls up front that will do really well this year,” senior midfielder Shauna Riordan said.

The Greyhound boys lost 40-plus goals with Bubar, George Clement and Tyler Dupal, so scoring will be a focus early on. But the players are quick to point out that they’ve had to adjust to losses before and have still competed at the top of MVC pack.

“The year before, we lost a lot of defense,” said junior midfielder Justin Grant. “A bunch of people from the offense had to come back and help on ‘D.’ This year we lost all offense, so we still need people to step up on defense but also step up on ‘O.’

“We lost our goal-scoring, so it will be a different challenge, but I think this junior group that I’ve got, they’re little grinders,” Sylvester said.

Like every year, reinforcements arrive in the form of freshmen. The boys had 10 at Monday’s session, an unusually large turnout. Morgan Reeves, a junior midfielder, said getting the newcomers acclimated to high school soccer is one of the important tasks of the  preseason.

“They’ve just come out of middle school, and being a freshman is a whole new thing,” said Reeves, who along with Grant played varsity his freshman year. “We want to get them comfortable and feeling like this is something they can do.”

The freshman girls seem to be fitting in fine after spending a summer with their mentors.

“They’ve caught up really fast, which is … not normal,” senior goalie Kyrstin Ramich said.


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