By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The 2017 Kickapoo girls’ soccer team showed what can happen when youth and experience mix well.
The Chiefs had a 20-win season thanks to a veteran-laden starting lineup and a deep reserve unit stocked with promising underclassmen.
Kickapoo claimed its third district title in five years with a 2-1 win over Ozark. The Chiefs finished 20-5-2 overall after losing 2-0 to Rock Bridge in the Class 4 sectional round.
“Our kids were focused and motivated all year to be in that (district title) game,” said Chiefs coach Phil Hodge. “We had such a great season, playing a tough schedule and winning 20 games. They wanted that district championship.
“We had a great group of young ladies that played hard for each other and loved representing their school with pride.”
The bad news for Kickapoo? The majority of its starting lineup graduated and are now playing at the collegiate level.
The good news? Last year’s reserves are primed to step into starting roles.
Kickapoo graduated a nine-player senior class who all contributed at the varsity level.
Forward Alyson Reinold (28 goals, 18 assists; playing at Evangel) and defender Annalee Arbeitman (playing at William Jewell) were named first team all-state.
Ari Acuff (second team all-state) was a four-year starter who posted 53 career shutouts. She’s now on the women’s golf team at Kansas University.
Skylr Houzenga (five goals, 11 assists) and Jessica Weedin (four goals, five assists) now play at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar.
Defenders Sarah Holman (Evangel signee) and Maddie Burton, plus Edyn King (six goals, three assists) and Kennedy Heeren are also gone.
“Next one up,” Hodge said. “That is the beauty of high school sports: someone else gets a chance to prove what they are capable of.
“As a staff, we have trust and confidence in each one of our kids to thrive on their opportunity when they have earned it.”
Kickapoo returns top-line talent in seniors Lily Simphaly-Ragsdale and Corinne Edelen.
Simphaly-Ragsdale is a Drury signee who had 10 goals and three assists last season. Edelen, an SBU signee, anchors Kickapoo’s defense.
Both are four-year starters.
“Lily provides leadership on and off the field,” Hodge said. “Corinne provides leadership and direction for our back line.”
Senior Maddie McLain is one of the most versatile players in the area. She’s played every position for Kickapoo, including goalkeeper in 2016 when Acuff was at the state final four for basketball.
“Maddie will stabilize our midfield and often do the little things that go unnoticed,” Hodge said.
Senior Rebecca Crocker joins Edelen in the back.
“Rebecca’s our lockdown defender who plays hard and does whatever it takes to win a 50-50 ball,” Hodge said.
Sophomores Jayln McClean and Serena Boyce added speed and dynamic play off the bench last season. McClean (20 goals, nine assists) had better stats than most starting players.
“Jayln proved herself early on in a very senior-heavy lineup,” Hodge said. “We look for her to continue to score goals and create scoring chances for her teammates.
“Serena will also look to be a goal scorer and create some chances for her teammates this spring,” Hodge said. “Serena got some varsity minutes for us last year and really had an impact on the game when she was in.”
Seniors Morgan Gunther, Kori Cowger and Ally Maska will have increased roles on the varsity level.
Gunther and Cowger will primarily play at outside midfielder. Maska will split time between outside mid and forward.
“Morgan and Kori continue to get better and more confident each and every year,” Hodge said. “Ally plays extremely hard and looks to get forward as soon as she gets the ball.
After playing sparingly on the varsity level last season, Hodge said junior Harlow Klein will have a “big role” on Kickapoo’s back line.
A new name to watch is sophomore Ashley Rush. The move-in from Arizona will split time between defender and midfield.
Despite the roster turnover, Hodge is already seeing strong team chemistry.
“It’s been a very productive preseason,” Hodge said. “This group will be very disciplined with their possession of the ball but also have the ability to score some goals. Their work ethic is exceptional and they’re a very coachable group.”
Like always, the Chiefs will take on all challengers.
Last season, Kickapoo had notable wins over the likes of Nixa, Springfield Catholic and state-ranked Jackson. Kickapoo also played perennial powers Incarnate Word Academy, St. Joseph’s Academy and Rockwood Summit.
This year’s non-local slate includes Cor Jesu Academy, Rock Bridge, St. Teresa’s Academy, Lee’s Summit West and a showcase tournament in St. Louis.
“We once again have an extremely difficult schedule and will need all players to understand and accept their roles for our team to compete game in and game out,” Hodge said. SSS
Kickapoo opens the season March 20 at Nixa.