NEW FRANKLIN  "I think the girls are curious ... they’re not sure how it’s going to go yet. I know I’m curious, too."

Manchester senior soccer player Neveah Mowery describes she and her teammates’ outlook on their upcoming season that way because this far out from the first game, the Panthers are still trying to sort out who they are and how they need to play in order to succeed this season.

Mowery, one of the team’s senior leaders, circulated among her teammates prior to a recent evening practice, talking to different members of the squad and trying to build connections she hopes will be part of the foundation for a good campaign. As a veteran on the squad, she knows that this year will likely be much different both for herself and her team than her three seasons of high school soccer that preceded it.

"Last year, I had to step up because we lost a girl to an injury. so I really had to step up and fill in. Now, I feel like it’s different this year. I’m a senior, it’s my last yer and I’ve got a lot of weight on my shoulders to be a leader out there and help the girls any way I can," Mowery said. "Right now, we’re really figuring out a formation. The biggest thing now is trying to figure out whether we’re going to be doing a four-back or a three-back, so we’re trying to test that out and see which one is going to work best because we haven’t played together as a team, as a whole yet, and we’ve lost a lot of players (to graduation) over the last two years."

Those graduation losses have deleted a lot of talent from a program that has made deep tournament runs a regular phenomenon in recent seasons, including district titles and regional tournament appearances. For the first two weeks they were able to get together this season, the Panthers channeled their energy into conditioning, working to establish a fitness foundation needed to spend 80 minutes going up and down the field during games, chasing down loose balls, jumping to battle for balls in the air and marking opposing strikers looking to put a shot on goal.

For her part, Mowery is eager to fill the leadership void created by the graduation of last season’s senior class. She and the rest of the seniors now have their chance to put their stamp on the program as its elder statesmen, which means upping their effort and intensity on the field and also, forging connections off of it.

"I’m focusing on being a leader for the younger girls," Mowery said, adding that she also has specific goals for her own play. "I’m really focusing on my touches and being strong up top because I’m going to be the deepest as a striker and really finishing in that last part of the field."

To help in the bonding process, the team took part in a three-day camp earlier this week at Cleveland State University. They traveled to CSU as a group, stayed in dorms and learned the game from members of the CSU coaching staff. The past two seasons, Mowery and her teammates attended a similar camp at Malone University, but decided to switch things up this year.

Part of her hope for the camp is that players figure out how best to play together and have their skills compliment one another on the pitch. There is also the expectation that spending time together in a non-soccer setting, be it in the dorms, at meals or other fun activities coaches may organize, will enhance team chemistry and allow everyone to get closer and know one another better.

"I think it will be really good … a lot of these girls have read personalties, they’re really nice and I think we’ll have a good time doing team bonding and things like that," Mowery said shortly before departing for camp.

The camp also featured games against teams from other schools and while those games don’t count in any standings, they could make a difference in contests that do have such an impact - assuming the Panthers are able to learn from them, get a better idea of who they are and what they can be and apply those lessons once the season begins.

Going to camp is also a short respite for Mowery from a busy summer that includes two part-time jobs, but being able to go away to camp and enjoy both soccer and time with her teammates is a welcome change of pace before she returns home and gets back to her typical schedule.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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