Coming into the 2015 season, there’s no doubt what the Smith-Cotton Tigers soccer team wants to accomplish after finishing with a share of third in Class 3 last season.
“We want to try to get back to where we were,” said head coach Ethan Weller. “There’s no guarantees, but I think we’ve got a good chance of repeating some really good things like we did last year. They’ve got a little taste of what it takes to get there and I think they’ve got a little taste of how close they are to possibly a state championship.”
Last season’s Final Four group was full of juniors, which means this season’s Tigers have no shortage of seniors.
During their first game of Saturday’s jamboree at Tiger Stadium, the Tigers had nine seniors start against the Jefferson City Jays. Smith-Cotton won the 25-minute exhibition 1-0.
“I think for the first game it looked OK,” Weller said. “There was definitely some things we’ve got to work on. Jeff City always has a program that can play a very different style and keep the ball well. In 25 minutes we looked OK, but in a full time game they’ll give us all we can handle. We’ve definitely got a long ways to go, but the good thing was when we subbed there really wasn’t a whole lot of drop off with the talent level.”
Seniors Thomas Todd, Roberto Ramirez, Nick Holman and Kevin Salas all started on the back line. Senior Landon Dove took his spot in the goal.
Seniors Vlad Varshytskyy, Brendan Hofheins and Blake Grupe started in the midfield and senior Luke Guier took one of the three forward spots. Juniors Carlos Aguirre and Jordan Lawson were also in the starting lineup as forwards.
With so much experience on the team, Weller said there shouldn’t be a problem with leadership.
“We’ve always tried to preach that on good teams players hold players accountable, it shouldn’t be us,” he said. “Obviously we’re there to motivate, we’re there to try to get the best out of them, but it’s really the kids’ team.”
When Smith-Cotton had mostly subs in against Jefferson City, the game remained evenly matched and the Tigers even scored the lone goal with the subs in.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that can contribute at this point,” Weller said. “At this point, we’re trying to figure out who’s going to contribute the most, who’s going to be most productive and those guy will get more minutes.”
Since the team has depth, there’s been plenty of competition during practice.
“A lot of people would look at our practice sometime and say ‘look at them, they’re arguing, they’re fighting,’” Weller said. “Well, they’re competing is what they’re doing. It’s kind of nice to see because we haven’t always had that.”
Another aspect of this team Weller pointed out was is mix of athletic ability and soccer skills.
“This is the most athletic and skilled we’ve been in a long time,” Weller said. “We’ve had teams in the past where we were athletic, but we didn’t have a whole lot of skill. We were able to get some things done, but we weren’t able to beat really good teams. We’ve had years where we’ve been really skilled, but we’re not athletic. This is the most balanced we’ve been with the athleticism and skill for a long, long time.”
But before the season starts with the Smith-Cotton Invitational on Friday, Weller said the defense still needs to learn to control the ball better.
“The biggest thing we want to improve on is our possession out of the back,” he said. “Last year, especially in the Final Four, I thought we struggled possessing the ball out of the back. A lot of times we’re not composed. Possession out of the back and composure overall on the field.”
Jason Strickland can be reached at 660-530-0147 or on Twitter @J_Strick_Sports.