COLUMBIA — It is still dark when cars start pulling into the parking lot at Stephens Lake Park. The soccer field is covered in fog as women dressed in running gear pile out of their cars at 6:15 a.m., ready to begin practice.
The Stephens College women's soccer team begins its second season Friday afternoon with one specific goal in mind.
Stephens plays its first game of the season at 4 p.m. Friday against Spring Hill College. The game will be held at Cosmopolitan Park.
"To score," sophomore Michaela Daniels said.
Daniels is in her second year on the team and is still troubled by her first. According to its website, Stephens did not win any of its eight official contests last year and did not score a goal all season.
It was a trying year for many Stephens players and even the coaching staff.
"There were times in the middle of matches last year when we let goal after goal in and I had this kind of sinking sensation or knot in the pit of my stomach," coach Xander Kennedy said.
"Six-fifteen sucks, and 6:15 sucks even more when you lose by 30 every game," Daniels said. "But it's still fun. Obviously, we all came back for a reason."
Stephens did not really lose by 30, but it did have games against Lyon College and Park University in which it lost 24-0 and 22-0, respectively. Despite these results, coach Kennedy and his players are excited for their prospects this season.
"There is absolutely no denying that we are a better team already," Kennedy said. "We brought in about 12 new players that really infused some more talent to the team. Then even our returning athletes have a year under their belts and seem to have really, most of them, taken the offseason seriously."
Junior MacKenzie Andrade is one of the new players on the team and also one of the captains for this season. Andrade was chosen as a captain because of her "complete and thorough soccer background," Kennedy said.
Andrade has been playing competitive soccer since she was 9 years old and transferred to Stephens after playing for two years at Maple Woods Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City. A 2011 graduate of Rock Bridge High School, she is excited to be in Columbia again and ready for the season to start.
"We really work well together," Andrade said of her new team. "Everybody's got their strengths and weaknesses, and I think we put it together well.
"The girls are all so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better transition to a team," she added.
Because the program is so new, many of the women on the team have much less experience than Andrade. Kennedy said the team started out last season with only seven players on the roster. Since 11 are needed to play in a game, some women were recruited from around campus based on an interest in learning or relearning the game.
Daniels said that before joining the team, she had not played soccer competitively since she was 12 years old. Even though the team had a poor season, she said she wouldn't trade her experience.
"No matter how bad you're losing, it's still a fun bus ride home when you play with your best friends," Daniels said.