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story.lead_photo.caption Kara Daly of Jefferson City looks to throw a pass during a game last season against Hickman at Fleming Fieldhouse. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

There likely will be hurdles for all high school teams this winter sports season.

The Jefferson City Lady Jays are facing a big one early.

The Lady Jays, who will be without five varsity players as they start the season tonight at Battle in Columbia, are embracing the challenge.

"We're in good shape," Jefferson City coach Kay Foster said. "We'll be back at full strength probably by mid-December.

"Then it's just a matter of getting them back, getting them in shape and getting the back into a routine."

The players are out with a variety of injury or COVID-19 issues that have sprung up in the last 10 days or so. The Lady Jays got their first taste of shorthanded play in last Thursday night's Jamboree against Blair Oaks at Fleming Fieldhouse.

"I was happy with the way the kids played because of all the adjustments we had to make late," Foster said. "We had great contributions from our younger kids, that was a big positive to see. I was pleased to see their contributions."

The Lady Jays return three senior starters — Kara Daly, Sarah Linthacum and Hannah Nilges — who have played on the varsity since they were freshmen.

That experience will help Jefferson City get through the uncertainty of the early part of the schedule.

"Roles just change and it can leave your head spinning," Foster said. "But the seniors have stepped up and showed great leadership. They have been really positive and doing a lot of teaching in the last week."

Linthacum has signed to play at Missouri, while Nilges has signed with Drake. Daly is also a Division I athlete, signing to play softball at Missouri.

Hannah Linthacum, a sophomore, is Jefferson City's fourth returning starter. She sat out the Jamboree after going through pregame drills.

With all the returning talent, Jefferson City is on the short list to go deep into the postseason when it comes around in February. Foster believes the chances for quality playing time for younger players early in the season will pay dividends down the road.

"We have some lofty goals and I would rather go into it having trust in eight or nine kids than just four or five," she said. "I never look at where we're at now, I look where we will be at in February. The positive thing about our situation now is kids are going to get opportunities that will help us in February that they likely would not have gotten.

"It's a chance for some these kids to show that they can contribute."

Jefferson City has a tough schedule with eyes toward the end of the season.

"You have to play the best to be the best," Foster said. "If we're going to accomplish our goals, you have to put kids in situations where they will either fail or succeed. And whichever way it turns out, when we get to February, we are going to know our weaknesses and will have worked to improve in those areas."

Some of those games will come in Jefferson City's first year in the Central Missouri Activities Conference.

"It's hard to figure out how important the conference is with it being in its first year, but we know there are a lot of talented teams in the conference," Foster said. "There are a lot of rivalry games there."

Jefferson City finished second in the Class 5 state tournament in 2019 before falling to Rock Bridge in the district final last February.

"We have a target on our back, a big red bull's-eye," Foster said. "We know we're going to get everybody's best effort against us and that's good for us."

Foster said preseason practices have been good.

"We're almost where I want to be," she said. "It's a matter of getting kids the repetitions that they need."

Foster is enjoying getting ready for her first season as head coach.

"I have so much passion for this game that has given me so much, I love being around the kids," Foster said. "It has been nothing but a pleasure to be around these kids, who are all great people."

Jefferson City's home opener is Dec. 2 against Lee's Summit West.

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