Last season’s youthful Smith-Cotton High School Tigers soccer team finished 14-9-1 with a share of the West Central Conference title, so coach Ethan Weller said “it’s time to take the next step.”
“No longer should we be sitting there going, ‘Well I hope we can compete in districts,’” Weller said. “It is expected that we should be a team to deal with and win when district time rolls around.”
Junior goalkeeper Landon Dove, a returning WCC All-Conference player, said he sees it the same way.
“I expect to win conference again without a doubt,” he said. “Win districts definitely. We all want to win districts.”
Rock Bridge knocked the Tigers out in the opening district game last season. That was a team full of freshmen and sophomores, who are getting acquainted with the program.
“They’ve adjusted real well,” Dove said. “They are used to it and they know the way we play. A lot of them have found their roles.”
Returning sophomores like Jordan Lawson and Alex Wenner got time with the varsity squad last season, along with nearly a dozen sophomores.
“With maturity and physical growth along with some skill development as well that I’ve seen from some kids, we have potential to be a tough team to deal with,” Weller said.
One of the sophomores was Jorge Salazar, but he was sidelined with a knee injury.
“He’s a very smart player and very skillful player,” Weller said. “People kind of have a knack of following what he does. He’s kind of a good leader by example.”
The Tigers will have a few seniors to lead the team this season, including All-Region player Nic Crank.
“We definitely need to get used to playing with each other,” Crank said. “A lot of us haven’t really played together before so it’s going to be completely different.”
While there is some adjusting to be made on the team, Dove said they should learn to play together fairly quick.
“We are around each other enough that it usually doesn’t take too long,” he said.
With practice in its early stages before the season starts in a little more than two weeks with the S-C Tournament, Weller said he’s trying to narrow down about two dozen players he feels comfortable taking the field at the varsity level.
“We are going to try to find the top 16 to 18 that we feel are the top guys,” he said. “Those guys will probably get most of the minutes.”