Team bonding was a challenge last year for the Louisiana Tech soccer program.
Because of COVID, there was not much opportunity for it. The players would just show up to practice, wait in their cars, get a workout in, and then leave separately.
There were hardly any team meetings or chances to hang out together.
A tough situation no doubt.
Team bonding is a crucial element to a program playing a sport that is centered on developing chemistry that translates out onto the pitch with 11 players playing as one unit.
“It is a night and day difference,” said sophomore Kalli Matlock. “We spend all day together. 24/7.”
Team practices, team meals, team meetings, Team bonding. Team, team, team.
One of the biggest reasons the team has grown closer together? The new facility.
“Even in this short amount of time, we have gotten to be really close,” said junior Christina Hjelvik. “A big reason for that is having our own space with the new locker room. All of the players come early just to hang out there, listen to music. Every time I walk in, there is this excitement in the air.”
Whether it is listening to DJ Alma or DJ Erin provide the tunes or watching the women’s soccer Olympics final between Canada and Sweden, the new complex has become a house of togetherness.
“We want to be to practice early, hanging out together in the locker room,” said Matlock. “Before, it was really hard because there was no home for us to be at. Now, we want to be together, do this extra stuff together because we have a place to do it now.”
Another reason why the team has gotten so close? A trip to the Mississippi coast.
Every player made the five-hour drive down to the gulf for a team getaway. Every day, they would wake up around 6:30 a.m., go to a morning practice, come back to the hotel to have a team meal, spend down time at the pool or the beach or in their rooms, get in a team dinner and afternoon practice.
And there was an exhibition match against Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College where everyone saw playing time among the three 30-minute periods.
What the time brought back to Ruston were memories, a positive game result and an even stronger bond.
“We got to see a baby bull shark,” said Hjelvik. “Some fishermen caught it so we got to pet it before they released it. The water was really warm and very shallow. So shallow we could walk really far out.”
“It was the first time seeing everyone play,” said Matlock. “We got a good result out of the exhibition. We have a lot of talent and are hungry for the season to start.
“Last year was so long, dragged out. It was hard to stay focused for the entire team. This year, the intensity of practice, the focus, is another level. I feel like it is going to be a good season for us.”
The season begins at home Friday evening against East Texas Baptist.
Photo: by Darrell James.
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