College futbol is back and ready to kick-start the 2019 season.

With the Neosho County Community College Panthers and Lady Panthers season just over a week away — both the Panthers and Lady Panthers play Rich Mountain on Aug. 22 at home — fifth-year men’s head coach and fourth-year women’s head coach Rafael Simmons has his team with a full head of steam on the practice field at the Chanute Community Sports Complex every day of the week. Practice has been ongoing the last few weeks, the former semiprofessional player, said.

“At the moment, since it’s kind of our first week, first week and half, it’s a lot of conditioning,” Simmons said. “At the moment, we’ve been doing conditioning with the girls 7 to 8 am and then with the boys 8 to 9 am. And then we go out to the field and do more of a ball work practice and we try to incorporate the ball with the fitness, too. We do that for an hour and a half to two hours.”

These practices include box jumping, battle ropes, 40-yard sprints with resistance bands, and squats, enabling a pervasive, hard-work environment. An interested spectator can see all of the equipment on the field, with players conditioning at different stations before rotating to a new station.

Hours later in the afternoon with practice intensifying, soccer players can be seen doing 70- to 80-yard sprints with and without the ball. Players also run laps four or five times around the field.

The practices culminate in the evening with scrimmages that last close to an hour.

Typically, this schedule happens two to three days in a row, and is followed up with a light practice; the cycle continues with rigorous practices the next few days.

A pattern of strenuous practices leading up to the year are generally the norm for college programs, no matter what the season before resulted in. Still, with the men’s team finishing the 2018 season with a 12-6-1 record, losing in the regional quarterfinals before placing second in the conference, and the women’s team culminating the year with a 10-10 record, also losing in the regional quarterfinals before placing fourth in the conference, the goal of both teams is to get better.

Simmons said to date, there are several players who have stood out in practices. On the women’s side, there are freshman players from New Mexico: defender Michelle Ojeda and midfielder Victoria Hines. Maritza Cabrales, a freshman midfielder from Wichita, has been impressive, too.

Simmons, a former junior collegiate soccer player at Crowder College who earned Region 16 first team All-Region honors, said his players have been exhibiting a wide range of skills.

“The defender, Michelle, she is very hard working, she’s good technically; she (Cabrales) can pass, dribble, shoot and do a little bit of everything and she’s a tough player,” Simmons commented. “And the two midfielders, Victoria and Maritza, they’re both pretty athletic, agile players; they move pretty good. They move the same. They’re good technically: they can pass, dribble and shoot. They’re a little bit different in terms of mentality and what they bring to the team, but all three of them are very good players.” 

On the men’s side, Simmons said the standouts so far have been Manchester, England, forward Alfie Belcher, Niteroi, Brazilian midfielder Renan Santos; and Guadeloupe, France midfielder Elie Lubino. 

All three players are sophomores who have been impressive in all facets of the game.

Scrimmages will be held Aug. 16 and 17 on the road, with the first official game looming just days later on Aug. 22.

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