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Scott Blake decided he had to stop practice.

On a recent Friday, he didn't like what he was seeing during soccer practice for the Jefferson City Jays and he wanted to talk about it with the players.

It looked like recent history was battling the present. And recent history was winning.

"I noticed there was a weight on our shoulders," Blake said as Jefferson City prepared for today's season-opener against the Camdenton Lakers at the 179 Soccer Park. "We talked about being confident on our games and they had put in the work.

"I asked them if they felt pressure with big expectations after what we did last year and some of them said they did. It was the elephant in the room, we didn't put the pressure on them, but they were definitely feeling it.

"So we talked about it and it was positive. This is their team."

It will be a new look for Jefferson City. who went undefeated in winning the first Central Missouri Activities Conference championship and tied for third in the Class 4 state tournament. There's only one starter returning from that team — junior Joe Kuster — and he might miss the season after suffering a knee injury in the summer.

"He'd be a standout for us," Blake said. "It took some time for the team to get past it and we have. Somebody else is going to get a chance to prove themselves is the way we are looking at it."

With 11 new starters, it may look like a rebuilding year for the Jays.

"On paper, we may not look like a Final Four team, but on the field, we might be," Blake said. "Last year, we looked like a Final Four team on paper and on the field. They were able to do both.

"We may not look like much right now, but sometimes the team you expect the least from can surprise you the most. We have to keep working to get better. You can't speed up that process, it just has to happen."

Blake hopes the Jays can reap the rewards of that process as they get closer to the start of the postseason.

"But we're going to have to play through some things, get knocked around a little bit," Blake said. "Then we can find that success and confidence in our play."

The Jays have had some success on the field, finishing undefeated on the JV level the past two seasons.

"We're young, but we're scrappy," Blake said. "The effort is always there and that's the most important thing."

Parker Gourley, a senior, will start at goalkeeper for the Jays.

"He's a great shot-stopper," Blake said. "He does a good job of picking up the ball, he gets to a lot of things."

The centerbacks will be juniors Cole Heller and Ryan Spraggs.

"I like their ability to win the ball back there," Blake said. "We need to make sure they are communicating and stay composed back there."

On the defensive wings will be a pair of brothers — senior Cooper Feeler and freshman Tuck Feeler.

The subs in the back will include junior Aarush Deshpande and sophomore Seth Stumbaugh.

The center-midfelders will be senior Owen Ramelb and Deshpande.

"Owen is more of a wide player, but he's had to move to the center out of necessity and he's getting better every day," Blake said.

Lennox Quainoo, a senior who will miss some games early in the season while he gets enough practices, will be in the mix in a couple of weeks.

Out wide in the midfield will be a mix of senior Matthew Mirtaheri, junior Riley Cooper and sophomore Chuy Castro.

"They don't have a lot of experience," Blake said. "We're going to have to work on our attack."

Starting at forward will be seniors Deandreis White and Tate Riley. Riley played soccer as a freshman before returning to the team this season.

"He's a talented kid, super athletic, he keeps his nose to the grindstone," Blake said.

James Zablon, a sophomore, will be among the reserves up front.

The starting lineup out of a 4-4-2 formation is not set in stone.

"If it doesn't work, we will patch things up and try again," Blake said.

The Jays have been more offensive-minded the past couple of years with talented players up front. But they may start the season focused on the defense.

"We've been able to get out there and go, which is atypical Jeff City soccer through the years," Blake said. "Now, we're getting back into more typical Jays soccer. We've got to figure out what we need to do to be defensively solid, what do we need to do to make sure we're not giving up 30 shots a half.

"But we're excited where we can be in the second half of the season, if we can be disciplined, work hard, show we can defend."

Action will begin with the JV game at 9 a.m. today, followed by the varsity contest around 11 a.m.

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