Melissa ISD soccer kicked off its fifth year of existence on July 9, as the sport’s annual summer camp got underway at Cardinals Stadium. The four-day program was led once again by the coaches who introduced the sport to Melissa schools in 2014, Cardinal varsity head coach Kelley Pitzer and Lady Cards head coach Manuel Avila. Avila and Pitzer welcomed about 70 kids this time around, with the campers - grades K through 9 - grouped by age in two morning sessions each day.

“I have a lot more girls here than I’ve had in the past,” Avila said. “Usually, it’s predominantly boys.” At Day 2’s 6th- through the 9th-grade session, girls outnumbered boys about 4 to 1. “A lot of the kids are out this week, unfortunately,” Pitzer said. “I had a whole bunch of middle school boys say they were on vacation. Out of the entire middle school boys’ team, I think three of them are in town.”

Pitzer and Avila, both huge World Cup soccer fans, referenced the ongoing championship tournament at times during camp. Said Avila, “I encouraged the little ones for this afternoon, ‘Hey, go home and watch the World Cup. I’m going to say the same thing to these [older] guys, but I’m going to say, ‘Look at the pressure, the cover, the balance. Are you seeing those same concepts at that level?’ The answer is, ‘Yes.’ You’re going to see one guy step to the ball and he’s going to pressure. That’s a strategic concept that every player in the world does.”

Avila noted the different approach used in the teaching the two age groups. “With this older group, we try to push them a little bit more,” he said. “We try to teach them a little more strategy, where with the younger kids it’s really more fundamentals.”

“It’s just a really immersive experience, with all the people coming together and having a huge group play,” Liberty Chapa, 14, said. “It’s fun.” Chapa has played select ball for some time and hopes to one day join Avila’s Lady Cards.

Payton Wallace, 14, was a standout player for Melissa’s 8th-graders last season. ‘Coach A’ is really nice and I get to play soccer - a sport I love - with my friends,” she said of the camp experience. Wallace competes in a Select ball league as well but this was her first MISD summer camp. Of a recent drill, she said, “It helps me with my ‘first touch’ and working on defense and getting the ball back quicker.”

Pitzer said he’s very high on the incoming group of 9th-grade boys. “We’ve got several eighth-graders that are going to be incoming freshmen that have some real talent. Then we’ve got an eighth-grade group this year that’s really talented. In fact, they all play. I want to say there’s 20 or 25 of them. That will be really good for the program, really good for the growth.”

Avila, by the way, (sort of) correctly prophesied the World Cup champion with four teams remaining. “I think the winner of today’s semifinal game between Belgium and France will be the winner,” he said. “I know a lot of people like England but … they haven’t proven anything to me. They have good quality players - obviously, top level. But they just haven’t stepped up to the plate and played well.” After defeating Belgium, France indeed topped Croatia for the title on July 15.