It was a new start Monday for the Rock Bridge volleyball team.
Beth Newton ran her first practice as the Bruins’ coach. An assistant at Hickman last year, Newton said she is eager to start her own program.
“You can only be an assistant for so long,” she said.
Vicki Reimler retired as Bruins volleyball coach at the end of last season after 22 years with the team, but has stayed on as the Rock Bridge athletic director.
Newton, who played volleyball at Missouri from 1986-1988, has been coaching for eight years at Hickman and Oakland Junior High.
With five seniors among the 34 girls trying out for the Rock Bridge team, Newton has her work cut out for her before the Bruins face Helias on Aug. 30 and Jefferson City on Aug 31.
“I’ve got two tough games right off the bat,” Newton said. “Last year, Jeff City lost to Hickman in the district championship and Helias will be good. They were really young last year and they’re returning lots of players, so both games will be real tough games.”The first day of practice consisted of drills and technical work. Newton said she believes consistent coaching will help the girls learn. Rock Bridge went 9-15-3 last season.
“We’re just looking to come out and improve every game,” Newton said. “Doesn’t matter where we start as long as we get better with every match.”
Amanda Grayson, a junior, said she is looking forward to a more successful season with a new coach.
“I like (Newton) a lot, she works us harder than last year, and we need the work to get better,” Grayson said. “Last year we had a really tough season, we didn’t win a lot of games but we had a lot of seniors and we had a lot of leadership last year, which I liked.”
Newton said she is looking forward to the season and likes her team’s potential.
“This year, I don’t know if it’s going be better or worse than it was before, but it’s definitely going to be different,” Newton said.
— Andrea Nigh
Those playing the least glorious positions looked the most busy during the Kewpies’ first practice.
Throughout morning and afternoon sessions, the offensive linemen hit pads, pylons, dummies and each other, and said they were excited to do so.
“A lot of us are happy to come out here,” senior center Luke Harper said.
“(The first day) is hard, we’ve got to get back in football shape again, but we’ve been working out together pretty much all summer, so that won’t really be a problem.”
Steve Leutjen, the Kewpies’ offensive line coach, said he is counting on Harper to “quarterback” Hickman’s line this year, but he said he wants all five linemen to play equal roles.
Leutjen said that on the first day of practice, the offensive line “wasn’t very sharp, enthusiasm was good, pace was good.”
While he said he was happy with the effort, Leutjen said he can’t count on similar performances the rest of the week.
“I wish it were a little hotter,” he said. “It was a little too cool.
“When the toll of two-a-days, and the heat and the practice and all starts wearing them down, we’ll see how well they can maintain their focus and their enthusiasm for the game.”
Harper echoed Leutjen’s sentiments.
“The first day is easy,” he said. “Everybody’s tired today,
but a few days from now, you’ll see guys falling over.”
— Jim Margalus
Rock Bridge Cross Country
The Bruins started working out without their coach the first week of July. On Monday afternoon, coach Neal Blackburn joined his team.
“I have been looking forward to this for a couple of months now,” Blackburn said. “I can’t wait until we can actually get out there and race.”
Senior Clayton Thompson said Blackburn’s wait will not be in vain.
“This year’s team, on paper, could be the best (boys’) team ever at Rock Bridge, because we have five seniors, a good varsity lineup and pretty good incoming freshmen,” Thompson said. “We trained more this summer than we have any other summer, we should be in the best shape.”
Blackburn said this year’s team is committed. A total of 12 boys and four girls went to the Missouri Cross Country Camp, and 25 runners in all showed up at the first practice.
“We have a really young girls’ team,” Blackburn said. “Hopefully we will have more bodies come out for the girls.
“We will have a lot of guys who are really good. In the past we have had five or six guys who had a chance to contribute at the varsity level, and I think this year we will have twice that, and that is really exciting.”
Incoming freshman Jeff Kaiser, who ran middle distances on the eighth grade track team at Oakland Junior High, said he hopes to do well his first year at Rock Bridge.
Blackburn approached Kaiser last year at an eighth grade meet about running for the cross country team.
“I thought it was really cool,” Kaiser said. “I never heard of a high school coach coming up to someone in junior high. I was looking forward to running cross country already, and just to have him come up to me made me even more excited.”
— Tammy Portnoy
Hickman boys’ soccer
Greece’s stunning victory in the European Championships in June taught Hickman’s Jay Johnson something.
A senior striker, Johnson, 17, is one of 52 players trying out for Hickman’s varsity.
Johnson said he learned a lesson from one of the biggest upsets in soccer history and that the Kewpies should play like Greece. Underdog Greece beat powerhouses from the Czech Republic, France and Portugal in the tournament.
“It was as surprising to us as everyone,” Johnson said. “But when you looked at it, they came together as a unit and they played the best together as a team. They don’t necessarily have stars.
“It’s a perfect example.”
Johnson said he and his teammates tried to play as much as they could during the summer to get ready for the new season and build team chemistry. The Kewpies have practices twice a day until school starts and cuts will be made on Wednesday.
“We’ve been very active during the summer to kind of keep in shape,” he said. “Our first goal is to come together as a team and just get used to each others’ style, and once we get that down, then, it’s just moving forward, correcting small problems and trying to be the best we can be.”
Coach Jon Strodtman said he was encouraged by his players’ attitudes.
“I got a bunch of good kids coming back from last year,” he said. “From what we’ve seen so far, the kids have matured, stepped up. I think we will be very competitive.”
Strodtman said a two-week summer camp gave him an advantage entering the new season.
“We had a bunch of kids at the summer camp, so we’ve looked at them there,” Strodtman said. “I think we are starting a little ahead of where we were last year.”
The Kewpies play their season opener against Rolla on Sept. 2 at home.