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The high school practice fields in Madras and Culver were full of excited players and coaches alike

ANDY DIECKHOFF/MADRAS PIONEER - The Madras High School girls' soccer team kicked things off with some passing drills.With the first days of practice underway in Madras and Culver, it's official: fall sports are finally back in Jefferson County.

Though the recent weather has reminded us all too well that we are still in the grips of the summer heat, the familiar scene of athletes showing up for the first day of practice was a welcome warming of the heart.

"It's awesome," said Madras girls' soccer head coach Shawn Darrow. "I'm super happy to have a normal season."

After COVID-19 waylaid the fall sports season last year, those programs did eventually get a season in the spring -- but the schedules were shortened, the timing was all wrong, and the fanfare was missing. That said, those competitions built a bridge for returning players who were able to develop, in both skill and confidence alike. That development was plain to see on Monday afternoon, when practices were in full swing all around the county.

ANDY DIECKHOFF/MADRAS PIONEER - The Culver football team put in a lot of hard work in the hot sun on the first day of fall practices."The leadership was good out there today," said Brian Silbernagel, the new varsity football head coach at Culver. "Upperclassmen were out there high-fiving the younger guys. It's great."

The Bulldogs spent the hot afternoon on the practice field running through drills, lifting weights, and working on their conditioning.

"Right now, it's just about getting back into the groove," said the coach. However, at least one player is already champing at the bit to get into the spotlight.

"Write down my name," said Culver's Abdiel Lemus. "You're gonna see me on TV one day."

Silbernagel add that he hopes more kids will come out for the football team before the season starts, and Madras varsity football head coach Kurt Taylor echoed that sentiment. However, both coaches also noted that they understand some would-be athletes are still busy with summer jobs.

Taylor seemed optimistic that the numbers would improve in the coming weeks, but also added that he was pleased with the players that did show up.

ANDY DIECKHOFF/MADRAS PIONEER - The Madras football team runs one of the first practice drills of the new fall season."It was a good first practice," said Taylor. "We met a lot of things we needed to meet today. We're getting back up to speed, back to fundamentals. Back to the things that make up our culture."

Those core values of the White Buffalo culture include treating the team like a family, which means developing close relationships within the team. During the practice, Taylor also preached a desire for his players to work with intensity and focus, two traits the coach himself has in spades.

While the football teams were looking for a few more players to join in, some of the other athletic programs around the county were happily surprised with the early turnout.

"We've got better numbers than I expected," said Madras volleyball coach Frank Maynard. "And you couldn't ask for a better attitude with this group."

ANDY DIECKHOFF/MADRAS PIONEER - MHS junior Yvonne Greene (center) goes for the ball as KayDee Abendschein (left) and Matty Buck (right) watch.Juniors Matty Buck and Yvonne Greene personified that attitude on Monday, praising both their fellow teammates and their coach.

"Frank taught us so much last year," said Buck, "and he really brought us together. We're excited to grow together, and we support each other through everything."

"We all really bonded over the camp last week," added Greene. "It's just so nice to be back. This year is going to be great."

In addition to Madras volleyball, both soccer teams in Madras and the cross country team in Culver also saw surprisingly good turnouts on the first day of practice.

"Getting one kid to come out to run for fun is hard enough," said Culver cross country coach Carter Spear, who reported that nearly a dozen people showed up on the first day. "Ten is a miracle."

Spirits are high for Spear and the Bulldog runners, especially after the boys' team took a very respectable sixth place in their final statewide event last season.

As for Madras girls' soccer, their numbers were improved both by an influx of freshmen and by returning players bringing friends with them to join the team. While there were a lot of new faces – the team lost 13 seniors from the start of last season – Darrow said that he was excited about working with this group.

"I've yet to see a lot of them play," said Darrow, as the players ran a lap around the pitch before starting the first day of practice. While he said he knows many of them from classes at the high school, Darrow added, "I'm looking forward to getting to know them as athletes."

For Clark Jones and the boys' soccer team at Madras High, the large showing also included a good deal of new faces.

ANDY DIECKHOFF/MADRAS PIONEER - Some members of the Madras high school boys' soccer squad watch their teammates take part in a drill."We've got a lot of freshmen out here," said Jones, as his team went through opening warm-ups. "We want to see how they will fit into the system and integrate with the group that is already here."

Jones and assistant coach Scott Jividen noted that they had not seen many of the new players since coaching them when they were in sixth grade, but that also means that there are already some existing relationships there. That should go a long way towards building quick chemistry within the team.

Of all the recurring themes throughout the practices on Monday, with seemingly everybody "getting back into the groove" and "building a team culture," one thing was clear above all else: at the tail end of a long, hard summer, everyone was happy get fall sports — and normalcy — back in their lives.


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