Kaylee Baker sat on the edge of the soccer field at Vista Grande Community Complex in Sandia Park earlier this week, pulled her mask below her mouth and opened her water bottle.
“It’s great—I missed it so much,” Baker said between sips.
The East Mountain High School junior was sitting with a few of her soccer teammates, including fellow juniors Sierra Larson and Kayla Salas—all parked about 10 feet apart—during one of their twice-a-week workouts.
They had just finished their warmups and were taking a quick water break before their workout kicked into high gear.
“Getting to do soccer again is amazing ‘cuz I’ve missed it so much,” Salas said. “Soccer is like the thing I love doing most.”
In a season that got deferred until February due to Covid-19, East Mountain’s girls’ soccer squad recently started getting together Mondays and Wednesdays for strength-training and conditioning—and the players could not be more stoked.
“It’s really nice, I’ve been missing it all summer,” Larson said.
“We’re just hoping to get them fit again and keep them fit until February,” East Mountain head coach John Sabrowski said.
“I’m not gonna lie, I really didn’t do much through all these months, kinda just sat at home,” Baker said. “So it’s good, it makes us all work better as a team.”
Sabrowski said the restrictions and guidelines from the governor and the New Mexico Activities Association—which seem to change as frequently as the stock market—have been a challenge.
With the help of his assistant coaches, one of whom is his wife, Mary Circe, Sabrowski started his workouts a couple of weeks ago about the time the NMAA raised the number of student-athletes allowed in each individual group, or “pod,” to nine.
Then on Oct. 16, following the governor’s public health order that limited the size of mass gatherings to five people, the NMAA once again revised its guidelines on the number of student-athletes and coaches allowed in each pod.
This week, in her online video, NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said, “With the mass gatherings at five, we are now at four student-athletes with one coach. We cannot have more than five within a pod.”
Sabrowski said the reduced pod size makes it a little tough to work on tactics and positioning or to do drills that require all 11 players, so he is just focusing on fundamentals.
“We’ll just keep the pods separate and kinda press on,” Sabrowski said, adding, “Right now, we just wanna get their fundamentals up to speed and their fitness up to speed and then hopefully we’ll go into the season ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”
Baker said the change in pod size doesn’t affect the workouts very much. “I think things will still go good, we’re all still together and we’re all still practicing, it’s just a little different, that’s it,” she said.
During this week’s workouts, Sabrowski positioned cones and obstacles at different spots around the perimeter of the soccer field, “circuits,” as he called them. Each girl has her own ball and maneuvers through a circuit, then dribbles their ball to the next one and performs another drill.
“The biggest thing is keeping a ball at their feet and working on their fundamentals while conditioning,” Sabrowski said.
“Yeah, it’s been really good,” Larson said. “I mean, I can tell we’re all out of shape but even in these past like two weeks, I’ve seen so much improvement for myself and for everyone else here.”
Sabrowski added that the workouts are not just beneficial for getting ready for the season but also for helping the girls maintain their physical and mental health.
“Oh, man, they’re super-happy to be outside and see each other,” he said. “We’re making sure they keep their distance and stuff, but yeah, they’re just super-happy to be out here doing what they love.”
The girls agreed. “Getting back out here with the new people, it’s been a lot of fun and I missed it a lot, and I missed the coaches a lot, so it’s great,” Salas said.
“I’m so glad to be back out here,” Baker said.
Ger has been writing and shooting photos of high school sports for The Independent for 15 years. His dedication to youth athletics goes beyond sports reporting. He is past president of East Mountain Little League and works as a baseball umpire. He lives in Edgewood with his family.