Faced with having his team scattered hither and yon indefinitely, Fort Osage girls soccer coach Michael Brown had one overriding goal: Don’t let them get too far apart.
The Indians were already tight-knit, and Brown knew they were plenty motivated after last year’s 20-2 season ended with a double-overtime district semifinal loss. That’s all easy to tap into when they’re all out on the field.
But when they can’t be together, as is the case with the Indians and every other team put in limbo by the COVID-19 pandemic, that team dynamic is much harder to maintain.
Unless you can get everyone to work as one, even when they aren’t.
“They’re all kind of doing the same thing together,” Brown said. “No one’s taking this journey alone or anything like that.”
So the Indians remain a team, thanks to modern technology and an already strong unity. And if – and it’s a big if – there is a season to be had, Brown believes the Indians would still be united and ready to play.
“We actually had a very, very good first couple of weeks of practice and training,” Brown said. “We were getting ourselves organized really well and getting on the same page. If we are able to get back after it, I think we’re in a good place to be successful because we laid a pretty good groundwork.”
That groundwork was laid well before the two weeks that preceded the shutdown of Fort Osage and other area schools until at least April 24. The Indians had depth and experience and a prolific scorer in Aliyah Ayala, an all-state forward who knocked in 61 goals as a sophomore last season. Fort Osage ran the table in winning the Suburban Middle Seven, outscored its opponents 127-17 and posted 15 shutouts.
Yet the season ended abruptly disappointingly, with a 2-1 double-overtime loss to Blue Springs in the Class 4 District 14 semifinals, denying the Indians a shot at a first-ever district title.
That’s made this hiatus – even though everyone realizes its necessity – all that much harder to take.
“I was super pumped,” Ayala said. “I mean, it’s my favorite time of the year. I love being able to be around the girls all week long and putting in hard work and playing together. It’s kind of disappointing that we’re not playing right now.”
But they are staying together thanks to the workouts Brown posts online every day, digging into his collection of YouTube videos he’s used over the years as a guide. When a player completes a workout, she can post a picture or video of her accomplishment to share with her teammates.
“We’re kind of mixing it up,” Brown said. “Sometimes it’s running, sometimes it’s footwork. It’s a mixture of some strength and endurance and soccer touches, all over the board to keep them interested and engaged.”
But isn’t just workouts keeping Fort Osage together. The Indians stay connected through a group chat, and once a week they get on Zoom to catch up with some team facetime.
“We wanted to make sure they stayed close to one another, helping each other out and motivating each other to stay on top in their workouts,” Brown said. “So far it’s been pretty successful. We’re pretty happy with where we’re at.”
Besides keeping their fitness up, Ayala believes the online gatherings have also kept their spirits up.
“I know a lot of us are bummed, especially the seniors,” Ayala said. “So I feel like us keeping in contact and still putting in work together encourages each other to keep our heads up.”
And that, Brown believes, will have them ready if and when they do get to take the field.
“We’re hoping as much as we can that we can get something out of the season and try to make another run,” Brown said. “The girls have a lot they want to prove and a lot they want to show people.”