SPRINGFIELD TWP. Four seasons in, the Springfield Spartans' girls soccer team remains the new kids on the block.
For senior Rachel Rodenbucher and her teammates, that means the summer is a vital time even though their first match of the season is months away. As one of the team’s most tenured veterans, Rodenbucher is using the summer as a time to try to take the lead and show her younger teammates a good example as the program tries to build upon the progress it’s made since debuting in her freshman season.
“Since we’re only in our fourth year as a program, there’s a lot more focus on team bonding,” Rodenbucher said. “We have a lot of girls who have never played before, so we have to backtrack a lot from what other teams do. As seniors, we try to go over to the younger players and teach them so they can be more ready for the season.”
One of the ways the team bonds is through open field sessions, which take place one evening a week at Young Elementary School. It’s a long throw-in down Canton Road from the high school and its stadium, but it’s tucked away from view a bit and allows the Spartans a chance to get out on the field together under the summer sun and try to build the components of a winning season.
Open field sessions began at the end of May and while attendance has fluctuated during the month of June because many players have gone on vacation with their families in order to get that travel out of the way before organized preseason activities begin in earnest, the sessions typically draw in between 10 and 15 players.
“At open fields, we usually do foot skills a lot and then play some 5-on-5 or 6-on-6 scrimmages, depending on how many girls we have,” Rodenbucher said.
At this point in the offseason, the coaching staff isn’t allowed to do any actual coaching, so the sessions are more relaxed than a practice during the season, but there is still a focus on getting tasks done and improving, especially for a program that is still trying to catch up to its Portage Trail Conference rivals, most of whom have been in existence much longer than Springfield.
Building a program has been a long and at-times painful process for the Spartans, but those who have been around during their first three seasons and are set to be a part of the fourth have seen their growth. Although she didn’t play as a freshman, Rodenbucher remembers the team strugglingly mightily during its first season and the struggles continued as she joined the team as a sophomore.
Still, last season brought several wins and with them, plenty of encouragement for a program that needs every piece of positive reinforcement it can get as it works to lay a foundation for success.
“From my freshman year, we’re very far ahead of where we were,” Rodebucher said. “We never used to win games and last year, we finally won some games. When it started, the only had like 15 girls and now, we have close to 30.”
Growing the roster has been a grassroots effort among both coaches and players, with much of the recruiting coming from players on the team who have gotten news of team events and activities onto the morning announcements during the school year. It’s a slow process, but one that’s necessary if Springfield is to establish enough of a program to rise in the PTC standings and some day compete for a league championship.
“We put it on the announcements and when we find girls who are interested, we text them and invite them to team bonding so we can become friends with them,” Rodenbucher said.
The results are beginning to show and the hope is that they will continue next month as the team continues open fields and later shifts its practice sessions to the old Spring Hill Elementary School. Rodenbucher is also working on her other sport, basketball, this offseason, so she has to find time for both in her schedule.
One of the ways she can train for both sports at the same time is running, which she often does on the streets of her neighborhood. Getting out on the road and improving her conditioning and fitness helps for both soccer and basketball and she views offseason activities for both teams as mandatory, even if the coaching staff doesn’t insist that everyone have to attend every time, unless she’s on vacation.
Sometimes, she’ll also meet up with teammates to play pickup soccer games at JEDD Park, trying to get as much field time as possible in before the preseason starts. It’s all part of the process for a team that is still a work in progress and as she readies for her final season, Rodenbucher is determined to keep pushing Springfield girls soccer forward alongside her teammates as they seek to shed the new kid label and simply be one of the teams vying for a PTC title on even footing.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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