By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Teamwork and consistency are ingredients necessary for a successful season – ingredients that were sometimes missing from the Bolivar Liberators boys’ soccer season in 2016.
Bolivar finished 8-13 last year – just the third losing season in Liberators’ program history.
“Our team was inconsistent, pulling out some great performances at times,” Bolivar coach Steve Fast said, “but we had a lot of difficulty finishing our shots and scoring.”
Fast believes the Liberators will be better this season, with three key starters returning to the pitch.
Senior goalkeeper Will vanHoornbeek, who recorded seven shutouts in the Liberators’ eight wins, is coming off a highly decorated season, which included: Class 3 All-Central/Southwest Region; Class 3 All-District 11 first team and goalkeeper of the year; All-Central Ozark Conference Small first team; and the All-O-Zone team at goalkeeper.
vanHoornbeek made the move from his center-midfield position as a sophomore to keeper last season, though he had played in goal for his club team.
“Will has the ability to keep us in every game,” Fast said. “He is highly skilled and a great leader on the field for us.”
And that was evident in Bolivar’s 1-0 (penalty kick) victory over Marshfield in a regular-season game last September.
vanHoornbeek made a huge save on Marshfield’s fifth PK; and on Bolivar’s fifth attempt, he buried the game-winner. He was key in another PK shootout with three saves against Branson to secure the victory.
Evan Haney, senior midfielder, joined vanHoornbeek on the Class 3 All-District 11 first team and the All-COC Small first team in 2016. Haney was also an all-district pick in 2015 after scoring 15 goals with eight assists. Haney followed up with six goals and four assists in 2016.
“Evan has good speed and great foot skills with the ball,” Fast said. “He is able to play defense, distribute the ball and has a good shot.”
Christopher Holt, senior midfielder, also will be looked upon to lead the Liberators.
“Chris was our most consistent player over the course of the season,” Fast said. “He was just that consistent guy you could always count on to bring his best to the game.”
One of the Bolivar’s biggest obstacles will be depth. The Liberators lost seven senior starters from the 2016 squad: Britt Tucker (stopper); Michael McNeal (sweeper); Caleb Evans (left back); Caleb Harris (right back); Anthony Contreras (center midfielder); Jacob Roderick (forward); and Shane Phillips (wing).
“We will be young and inexperienced defensively and at forward,” Fast said. “We have some quality, skilled players who play hard. We may have to move some people around to different positions, but we believe if this team will come together and accept the challenges, we can become a highly competitive team.”
Three of Bolivar’s newcomers looking to contribute this fall include: sophomores Dylan Rowell (midfield) and Alex Maldonado (forward) and junior forward Nick Genovese.
“Dylan was a starter as a freshman and loves to distribute the ball,” Fast said. “After a full year of experience, we are hoping this translates to him contributing a lot more goals and assists this season.
“Alex and Nick both got quality varsity minutes last year and we are hoping for a breakout season for them both. We have not had a strong finishing goal scorer the past couple of years. We are going to look to these two guys to provide some scoring and assists for our team.”
The Liberators head into their final season as a member of the Central Ozark Conference, but Fast said that will not be a distraction.
“We will carry on one game at a time as usual,” Fast said. “Republic, Willard and Carthage will be in our district again this year. All three teams will be tough to beat, but we believe we can compete and we look forward to the challenges of these games.”
Up first for the Liberators will be the jamboree at Bolivar on Aug. 11, where they will face Lebanon and Camdenton. Bolivar opens the season Aug. 18 at Aurora.
“I’m looking forward to a pretty good season,” vanHoornbeek said. “We are going to have some young people step up. They all really work hard, and I think it’ll pay off.”