COLUMBIA — The Hickman girl's soccer team huddled after practice Monday, feeling the weight of Saturday's 10-0 loss.
The young players, who wear inexperience like acne, gathered in a half circle and listened as their coach tried to chase away the haunting caution and fear.
"You need to get your swagger on," coach Tony Gragnani said.
Gragnani is ready to see some confidence from the Kewpies (0-1). Excuses are not an option, even if the team did lose half of its starters from last year's squad.
With seven freshmen and four sophomores, more than half the team members are underclassmen. Three of the seven freshmen are starters.
Freshman midfielder Allie Lopez stepped on the field for the first time as a varsity starter Saturday. At 4 feet, 11 inches, Lopez, the team's shortest player, had nerves that left her shaking like a spring leaf.
"I feel like I have to play bigger and go after it," Lopez said.
She said "going after it" means being willing to run people over when she gets the chance.
Freshman defender Erika Storvick is not the smallest on the field but sometimes feels like it.
"I think I was one of the most scared Saturday," Storvick said. "I'm 5-6, but I feel like one of the smallest when I go out there."
Freshman defender Jesi Gladden, who's adjusting to playing a new position, worried less about the opposition and more about team's need to play together.
"I can still learn to work with these girls a lot better," Gladden said. "Communication is our biggest issue. I feel like it's standing in the way of our potential."
The Kewpies scored on themselves before the mercy-rule ended Saturday's game 15 minutes early. On Tuesday, the Kewpies will look to rebound when they host Pembroke Hill, a team that Gragnani said is "well coached and can be dangerous if we don't take them seriously."
But at this point in the season, Gragnani's main focus is on helping Hickman gain more experience.
"The biggest thing we need is experience and our girls lack that," Gragnani said. "We're young but we can come out and play strong. As we progress and learn, I think we have a definite shot at making a run in districts."