MELISSA — The field at Melissa ISD Stadium was covered in soccer balls and running children on Monday morning, July 10, as Day 1 of soccer camp got under way. The four-day camp offered two sessions per day, with first-through-fifth-graders starting at 8 a.m. and sixth-through-ninth-graders following shortly thereafter.


The camp, for both boys and girls, was led by Melissa girls head coach Manuel Avila and Melissa boys head coach Kelley Pitzer. There was no shortage of expert instruction on hand as Lady Cardinal varsity veterans Gillian Stopinski, Reagan Eichel and Genevieve Stopinski assisted throughout the week. Gillian was a First-Team All-District selection as a junior forward last season; Eichel, as a sophomore, was the district’s Co-Defensive MVP and a First-Team All-Region defender; and Genevieve was an Honorable Mention All-District pick as a freshman.


Incoming senior Josh Love, the Cardinals’ three-time District Goalkeeper of the Year, was also slated to offer fundamentals tips to the older campers. Assisting with camp as well was Brian Stopinski, father of Gillian and Genevieve.


Genevieve noted that the younger kids mostly liked the one-versus-one drills and shooting on-goal.


“Passing,” she said, “that’s definitely the hardest part for them.”


Pitzer said he’s been affiliated with a camp or attended one since he was 5 years old.


“I think the biggest part of (camp) is just teaching them technique and teaching them the fundamentals of the game,” he said. “For the really young ones, it’s just making sure they have a love for the game, making sure that they actually enjoy it. If they’re having fun, they’re going to keep playing. That’s the beauty of camp.”


“Then we get the older kids and we focus on being a lot more tactical, especially formationally — teaching them formations, teaching them what their body shape should look like, things that they really need because they’re a little bit more skilled. They can dribble a ball, they can shoot a ball — but do they know what their position is on the field?”


Avila reported that about 70 kids participated on Day 1, with the majority in the younger bracket.


“Each year I like to see the kids that come back and see how they’ve improved,” he said. “We try to teach them something that they can take to their season. … We’ve got kids that are back for the third year. Our goal now is to try to start to teach them some of the more complex stuff. For the first time in a long time we’ve actually separated even our younger group into two separate sub-groups.


“The only thing I can ask of any camper is, a) primarily have fun. Are they going to take a whole lot from the camp? I don’t know. But your goal, kind of like a teacher, is if you take a least one thing positive — at least one — then it’s worth my time.”


Avila said he attended camps as a young player.


“I just always enjoyed doing it, especially in the summertime,” he said. “One of the big ones I remember is when I went to Texas A&M soccer camp. It was one of my favorite. I literally left home for a week and stayed in the dorms with other kids my age, (about 12.) It was kind of hard as a little kid to do that, but it was a lot of fun. I wanted to get better and I wanted to get ready for high school soccer.”