With most of the varsity team members playing together since they were 8 years old, the Smith-Cotton High School boys soccer team has grown into a family.
Players have come from all over to play for Smith-Cotton. Love of the game as well as the Paul Klover Soccer Association and Sedalia Select traveling team brought many of these players together.
Senior Landon Dove, 17, is the varsity goalie. Originally from Green Ridge, Dove moved to Sedalia for more opportunities and because the soccer community he grew up with is located in town. He started playing in Paul Klover and Sedalia Select at the age of 8 and met many of his teammates through these organizations. Soccer “made me appreciate my friends,” Dove said.
Dove said playing with so many of his teammates since a young age has developed much of the team’s chemistry. Teammate and center forward Luke Guier agrees. Guier, 17, also a Smith-Cotton senior, lived in Sweet Springs but moved to Sedalia School District 200 when he was in eighth grade because of the soccer team. Guier also began playing soccer at age 8 through Paul Klover and Sedalia Select. Having played with his brothers even before high school began, Guier said there is a “lot of trust on the field” because they know how each another play, making it easier to work off one another.
While most of Smith-Cotton’s soccer team has grown up together because of PKSA and Sedalia Select, they have also played with students who now attend Sacred Heart High School. Like Smith-Cotton, last year Sacred Heart’s soccer team advanced to its state class’s Final Four.
Amanda Blackburn is the board president for the Paul Klover Soccer Association and has been involved with PKSA for 10 years. She said growing up and playing together for years has had a huge impact on the way the S-C boys play today.
“Youth sports set a foundation for children to build work ethics and passion in the sport,” she said.
Blackburn believes soccer is so popular because it’s laid-back, family-oriented and creates lasting bonds.
Soccer is loved by all kinds of cultures and races globally. Locally, there is a Mexican league that plays at Katy Park on the weekends and many Hispanic youth play at Vermont Park. Guier participates in these games with friends at times. S-C teammate Carlos Aguirre, 16, has played with the Mexican league as well. Aguirre, a junior, is of Honduran descent. Soccer is pretty popular in Honduras, Aguirre said, but the real reason he began playing at the age of 3 was because of his older brothers’ influences. Aguirre began played in PKSA and with Sedalia Select as well.
There is a stereotype that having a Latino background automatically makes one good at soccer; Aguirre has felt this stereotype but has never felt different from his brothers on the field.
“To me, (soccer) means everything. My go-to,” he said. “Whenever I play soccer, I don’t have to worry about anything—just the game. Just worry about the game and doing what I love.”
Senior Vlad Varshytskyy moved to Sedalia last year from the state of California. He ended up becoming a captain for S-C by the end of the season. Varshytskyy’s background is Ukrainian and he said, “[Soccer] is very common, lots of the boys there play it and play it everywhere, whether it’s in the woods, yard, field or streets.” Varshytskyy believes soccer is loved by all cultures because it is a worldwide sport and can unite nations.
“It is simply the beautiful game,” he said.
“Soccer creates a little bit of a melting pot,” Blackburn said. “It eliminates any boundaries that could be there because of that common bond.”
Blackburn said it has been amazing to watch the S-C boys grow and she’s not only impressed with the talent and dynamic of the team, but with them individually.
The team could not be as successful as they are now if it weren’t for youth league and school coaches. Brad Grupe, whose son Blake plays for S-C, was the Sedalia Select coach for many of the current S-C varsity players. Guier said Grupe taught the players the fundamentals of soccer, creating their love for the sport.
Ethan Weller, the Smith-Cotton boys soccer coach, has helped the players throughout their high school careers. Dove said of the coaches: “(They’ve) pushed us, encouraged us and kept us going – got onto us when they needed to.”
Weller has been coaching at Smith-Cotton since 2006 and became head coach in 2009.
“I think the No. 1 reason soccer is so popular is that it’s a great starter sport for kids,” he said. “All you need is a ball. You don’t need expensive equipment.”
Weller believes the team’s success has been linked to the boys playing a lot when they were younger.
“The fact that these guys have grown up playing, traveling together from a young age has been tremendously helpful,” Weller said. “We have not had to work on basic elements of the game like we have had to do in the past. These guys are the most skilled and athletic group that we have had come through. We have had teams before that were skilled or athletic, but never both. These guys have both aspects.”
Years of hard work, dedication and playing together laid the foundation for the S-C boys soccer team’s recent run of success.
“I don’t know if people consider (Sedalia) as a soccer town,” Guier said, “but with both schools playing so well and the leagues, it seems like everyone loves the game.”