Big dreams beckon DHS soccer team
For some, even the phrase "cross country" sends shivers down the spine. Members of the De Soto High School soccer team have spent the summer trying to overcome their gut reactions, however, and the team is hoping the early mornings and rigorous routines of the school's state championship cross country team can be an asset in their own race to state.
The boys soccer team, boiling over with hopes of making a run in the postseason, has been joining the cross country team for various running workouts three times a week since school ended.
"I thought it'd be tough, and it has turned out to be pretty tough. It's great for our endurance, though," junior Paul Oswald said, panting hard after finishing a four-mile run on the roads near De Soto. "We needed it. We were fast last year. We could sprint forever, but we couldn't last very long."
De Soto soccer coach Darren Erpelding said the concept seemed pretty obvious. He had a bunch of soccer players eager to piece together a great season. He also had a friend and fellow coach in De Soto cross country guru Chris McAfee, coach of the Class 4A state champion girls team, and the third-place boys squad.
The two discussed it and McAfee eagerly agreed.
"I know up at Bonner Springs the soccer guys work with the cross country team," McAfee said. "I'm already here anyway, and I like doing it. I like (Coach Erpelding), and I like the soccer guys and I want to see them do well, so I said I'd do it."
You don't stumble upon a state championship caliber cross country program by ideally sending teenagers jogging into the hills, and McAfee didn't start working with the soccer team that way either.
He researched soccer workouts and splits the players that show up -- attendance hovers between 10 and 20 kids -- from the regular cross country runners.
Sometimes the groups run different distances. Other times there are more specific workouts meant to mold bodies for the pitch rather than the course.
"On Mondays I have them do stuff on the track," McAfee said. "Other days they do what we do, some strength building stuff with the hills. Then on Fridays we try to get out and go on longer.
"What we do later in the summer will be even more tailored to what they do."
For Erpelding, it all amounts to relief. He said last year's team was deep but inexperienced. He expects this fall's team to have a lot more experience, but not as much depth, making endurance even more important.
"It's gone really well," Erpelding said. "McAfee's a great coach and has taken his teams to state for four straight years, so maybe some of that will rub off."
"My guys didn't complain too much. They know they need to be in better condition because they want to make a serious run at state."