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JUCO SOCCER: Long delayed season nearly here for LC women

GODFREY — After more than a year since his team’s last game, Lewis and Clark Community College women’s soccer coach Tim Rooney finds it a bit ironic that with preseason practice within sight, the sports floodgates are starting to open.

“For so long, there were no games, no seasons, practices were on, then off, there were pauses,” Rooney said. “But now, everybody is either playing or getting ready to play in really, all sports.

“But I’m not complaining,” he said. “I’m glad the season is almost here and so are the players.”

With men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball seasons in full swing and with baseball and softball beginning, throwing in other spring sports would mark the first time all major sports at LCCC would be playing at the same time.

The NJCAA moved women’s and men’s soccer seasons from their traditional fall months to this spring because of the coronavirus pandemic. Official preseason soccer practices will begin March 15 and games shortly after.

“We’ll have to try and fit everything in that we need to in two weeks before our first games,” Rooney said. “But our players have been doing a lot on their own.”

LCCC women’s and men’s soccer players can be found conducting their own practice sessions around the area, including on the new artificial playing surface field at Gordon Moore Park, as well as a grassy area between the LCCC baseball and softball diamonds off Stamper Road in Godfrey.

“We also have had access to the gym (at River Bend Arena on LCCC’s campus),” Rooney said. “But starting practice with the season close, things will seem more like normal.”

If normal is possible.

Despite the pandemic and with many of the LCCC classes taking place online, Rooney said the team has been enrolled and in focus since the start of school.

“Everybody is here except one player from Australia, who decided to stay back and will instead come next season,” Rooney said. “With new players and new situations, we might see players move around. It all depends on who looks good where and what the opponents will present.”

The Trailblazers’ schedule this spring is a shorter than usual, because of the pandemic. Also, the postseason will look different, with many of LCCC’s traditional Region 24 rivals moving down to Division II from Division I.

The only area women’s soccer programs in NJCAA Division I this season are Illinois Central College in East Peoria and Wabash Valley’s second-season program in Mount Carmel. Lincoln Trail College, also with a second-year soccer program, had planned to play Division I, but elected not to field soccer teams this spring.

“The region playoffs will probably be the two lower seeds playing, with the winner playing the No. 1 seed,” Rooney said. “Then they would play the winner from the Iowa region for the distinct championship and a spot at nationals. But we have a lot to do before we worry about that. We need to get ready to just play.”

The Trailblazers’ first game is set for April 3 at home against Triton College. That will be followed by road games at Parkland April 5 and Illinois Central April 8.

Perennial power Eastern Florida State, which has served as host of the national tournament, will play at LCCC April 11.

The 10-game schedule will conclude May 12 at Wabash Valley, followed by the playoffs. The NJCAA Division I National Tournament is set for June 3-8 at Blanchard Woods Park in Evans, Georgia.

“We have to be ready to go when the season starts and there’s not a lot of time,” Rooney said. “We can’t say we’ll experiment with a formation a two or three games because three games is basically a third of our season.”

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