NORTH CANTON  Foot skills are the buzz words for McKenzie Fowler this summer.

Fowler, a senior defender for the Hoover girls soccer team, is in the early weeks of summer training and she and her teammates are eager to improve coming off a season in which they reached the district semifinals. For Fowler, the primary focus for the summer months is making sure that a soccer player’s most valuable assets, the feet, are as skilled as they can be for her final season of high school soccer.

“I want to get better foot skills and not just kicking the ball, but passing and moving more,” Fowler said.

The schedule for practices in the early weeks of the summer have fit perfectly with that goal. Sessions typically start with passing drills and stretching to warm up and make sure that everyone is loose and ready to go. The next round of drills is also focused on foot skills, followed by a shooting drill of some sort with a foot skills component to it.

To end the day, the Vikings do a drill the coaching staff has named World Cup. It’s a bit of pure, unmitigated chaos on the pitch, with the entire team on one half of the field with four soccer balls in play. Teams of four work together to gain control of one of the balls and score against one of two goalkeepers minding the net.

Once a team scores a goal, it gets to exit the field and take a seat while the remaining teams do battle until one team is left on the field. 

Having more than 20 high school girls on the field together at any one time can be a recipe for a lot of energy and lively conversation, but according to Fowler, she and her teammates are typically good about balancing out the fun with getting their work in.

“We’re usually pretty good about keeping focused,” Fowler said. “There are times when we get off topic, but it usually doesn’t last that long and we’re pretty good at getting back on track.”

Right now, the team’s approach is to focus on the day-to-day tasks in front of it rather than looking too far ahead or glancing back at last season. 

Asked if the seniors have established any goals for themselves or their team, Fowler quickly noted that “it’s too early for that.” Instead, it’s all about the present and that means adjusting to the new reality of being one of the senior leaders for the Vikings.

“Kind of, but not really yet,” Fowler said of whether the reality of being a senior has sunk in yet for her. “It’s going to take a couple of weeks. It depends, sometimes I’m more vocal, sometimes I’m more quiet and let other people take over.”

In the same way, she and her teammates mostly keep last season in the past and don’t rehash any of its ups or downs too often. As the season nears, Fowler believes the motivation from falling short in the postseason last fall will factor in more.

Many high school students like to use the summer to get away from all things school-related, but student-athletes spend much of their summer break with their coaches and teammates and at their school.

That dynamic creates an interesting dichotomy for Fowler.

“It’s nice to have people around just because it gives you people to hang out with, but also, you’re with them a lot, so sometimes you get tired of it,” Fowler said.

Part of her schedule for the weeks ahead is adding in her own individual work on the side to supplement what she does with her team. The current plan is to include an extra run on her own and to do more lifting on her own to bolster the weight room time she spends with the team.

All of those components are part of what Fowler hopes will be a well-rounded skill set that will propel she and her team to a successful season. Unseating defending Federal League champion Jackson is the goal for the other six teams in the league and achieving that goal starts on nondescript summer days at places such as Clearmount Elementary School, with two dozen high school soccer players battling in a World Cup drill and looking to better their foot skills and themselves. 

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