COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - It's time to get things going at Walden Soccer Complex as the Columbus State Lady Cougars opened practice on Wednesday morning.
They did their traditional heavy conditioning drills on the first day, patterned after the fitness workout of English Premier League powerhouse Manchester United. Players are required to meet a certain standard before they're issued full gear.
Getting his team on the field and preparations going has head coach Jay Entlich enjoying life to the fullest, especially considering how well his squad did in the morning run.
"Some people, they kind of say, 'I can't wait for Christmas. It's my favorite day of the year'", Entlich said. "I'm probably completely opposite. My favorite day of the year is the first day of preseason because we get to see all the fruits of our labor. Today was awesome. It was incredible, the team camaraderie, just the kids getting after it."
Senior forward Riley Clark was also impressed with how well things went in the opening practice.
"I'm really impressed with the work rate," said Clark. "We all kind of pushed for a higher goal on our fitness test and I think most of us achieved that. That's really good to see that we're coming in fit, which is the first step in soccer because they'll coach us through the rest of it."
The Lady Cougars come into the 2019 season with high expectations. CSU is ranked fourth in the nation in the preseason United Soccer Coaches poll. There's good reason for that. They have nine starters returning from last year's that racked up an 18-1-and-2 record and a sixth straight Peach Belt Conference crown and earned a spot in the national quarterfinals. But Entlich has his own approach to the preseason hype.
"You look at it and go, 'Wow, nine starters returning starters. That's great.' But to be fair, in my mind there's zero returning starters because every job is open. I want to make sure everybody knows that, especially our freshmen because they've got to be able to compete for jobs and if they play better, they're going to displace somebody. But for sure, we do have a veteran group returning, but I look at it as veterans, not starters.
"Coach sets the standard high," Clark said, "and that's what we want. We don't want to be any lower than Elite Eight this year. I know it's a hefty goal, but I think we're capable of it. Like you said, we're returning a lot of people, so we have no excuses."
The Lady Cougars open the season September 5 at Embry-Riddle, with the home opener set for September 13 versus Tampa.