CHESHIRE -- Meg Rodowicz was already done with her two-mile run to close out the first day of soccer practice at Hoosac Valley.
She didn't have to run anymore. But she did.
Rodowicz met two underclassmen who were struggling to finish and ran an extra half of a lap with them, helping spur them toward the finish.
That's exactly what Hoosac Valley girls' soccer coach Blair Mahar is looking for in a player and one of the reasons he's named Rodowicz a captain for the upcoming season.
"I told the girls right when we started at 7:30, I would rather take three average players who are coachable, optimistic and energetic than one outstanding poison player," Mahar said following practice Thursday morning. "Give me a girl who is happy and coachable. As a coaching staff, we like to see girls who are optimistic, friendly and helpful.
"Meg goes out there and finishes with them. That is just leadership. That's what we want. That's who Meg is and that's what we would like out of all our players."
The Hoosac Valley girls' soccer team is returning nine of its starters from last season's roster, but that doesn't mean everyone's spot is safe. Rodowicz was one of the team's top scorers last season and with gestures like she showed early Thursday morning, is on her way to anchoring the Hurricanes once again. Not all the returning players do have their spot secure, though. Mahar sent a strong message to his team before practice starts.
"We have a meeting in June and we lay it on the line there," Mahar said. "We say ‘look ladies, come August it's the top 16 girls who are the most fit, bring the most talent, bring the optimism, the right attitude, the tactical skills and that's it. It's not grade, it's not age, it's not what their last name is. It's an open book.'
"There are always some surprises. You have a few upperclassmen who don't bring it and you have a few eighth- and ninth-graders who are clearly out here to make varsity."
Mahar patrols the practice field for the first few days of tryouts with a clipboard in tow. He's constantly taking notes, checking in with his assistants and scratching off names based on performance over the course of the day.
For some coaches, the first few days of tryouts are about seeing who's in shape and prepared for the season. Mahar puts his team through the two-mile run at the end of practice and keeps track of the first 16 players to finish.
Other coaches wait until Day 2, seeing how players bounce back after a grueling work out on Day 1.
The talent evaluations don't begin until game-like situations are put into play.
"It's hard to [judge talent] and be completely objective, you can't just base it off how fast a kid dribbles through a set of cones," Mount Greylock boys' soccer coach Blair Dils said. "Ultimately, it comes down to observation in game-like situations and seeing who is making positive plays. You can have a guy look really sharp in a training exercise, but just disappear completely in a 9-v-9 or 11-v-11 scrimmage."
Coaches from all over face the challenge of how to evaluate fresh talent on the first few days of practice.
"There will be some timed sprint-type things," first-year Mount Greylock volleyball coach John Albano said. "Volleyball, it's a lot of quick movements and staying low. There will be some timed things measuring that. Those are the two big ones that we'll be measuring. And then vertical leap."
Dils is entering his 15th season at the helm of the Greylock boys' soccer program and has a pretty good idea on what his varsity roster is going to look like.
"My hardest decisions are the guys who are going to be swing players for us and deciding if an eighth-grader is going to be on the JV team," Dils said. "Trying to figure out the core varsity group, those guys are pretty established and you have a good sense of where guys are coming back."
It's up to a returning player to retain their roster spot. Varsity sports are result-driven, and coaches are going to play the players that give them the best chance to win.
"It's whoever is working hard, whoever is putting in the time and bringing the most skill. That's who is going to get the playing time," Hoosac Valley senior Shaun Knapp said after the boys' team concluded practice. "It doesn't matter if you are a captain, a senior or a freshman. If you are working hard and playing hard, you're going to play."