East Mountain senior Kaylee Baker scampered across the grass just in front of the goal on the soccer field at Vista Grande Community Complex in Sandia Park.

Just as she made a move on the ball she slid and fell to the turf.

“Baker!” one of her teammates yelled.

“Dude, I hit a mud patch!” Baker said.

It was Wednesday morning around 9:30 and a group of East Mountain girls’ soccer players, half of them wearing orange vests and the other half wearing lime-green vests, were scrimmaging on the Vista Grande pitch.

Close together. No masks.

This time last year, high school sports were stuck in a Covid holding pattern, Vista Grande was closed, and student-athletes were hearing rumors about possibly resuming workouts in small groups called “pods,” under strict guidelines like mandatory mask wearing and social distancing.

East Mountain’s girls’ soccer team didn’t return to pod practices until last November. Its fall season was postponed until February.

Baker’s teammate and fellow senior, Sierra Larson, said, “Yeah, I remember the pods, that was no fun.”

Now, the girls’ team—sometimes with as many as 20 players—is getting together four mornings a week for summer workouts.

“It’s great, I missed it so much,” Baker said.

“Yeah, no masks too!” Larson said. “It’s awesome, I’m so happy that we’re able to get back here for my senior year, it’s nice to be back in a fairly normal environment.”

The girls’ team has been getting together for several weeks and will continue through the end of July, according to head coach John Sabrowski. They work on fitness and conditioning, soccer fundamentals, and end each practice with a scrimmage—something they couldn’t do last year.

“It’s one hundred times better,” Sabrowski said. “Before we were limited to what we could do and now we can use the full field, we can use full groups, we can scrimmage, so it’s absolutely one hundred times better to not be stuck in pods.”

East Mountain junior Isabel Armstrong, who scored 18 goals during her freshman season but has not played since, echoed her teammates.

“I’m glad to be back with the team and that everything’s kinda back to normal now,” Armstrong said.

With the recent rain, the Vista Grande soccer field was soggy, making for some slipping and sliding, but no one seemed to mind.

“The field’s a little slick, but it adds to the fun, you know, falling down,” Sabrowski said, adding, “But through the summer we’re gonna build them up and get them ready for the season—we’re full steam ahead.”

East Mountain’s boys’ soccer team has been doing a similar schedule as the girls, only in the early evenings.

Head coach John Larson said he’s glad to be able to get an early jump on the season.

“We’re really excited about getting the team together and building that chemistry that practicing over the summer will help us build,” he said.

Larson said the boys’ team has had as many as 15-16 players show up, and his focus has been getting the team fit and taking advantage of doing eight-on-eight game-like situations.

“You can really practice technique and tactics when you have eight-V-eight, in pods we could barely even pass to each other,” Larson said. “And no masks is a welcome change—it’s our new normal.”