By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Springfield Catholic soccer returns 18 players from a varsity squad that stood toe-to-toe with some of the area’s best last season.
The Irish finished 18-5 overall, falling to budding rival Monett in the Class 2 sectional round.
All five of Catholic’s losses came by one goal; the Class 2 Irish were able to beat eventual final four participants Republic (Class 3) and Kickapoo (Class 4) during the regular season.
“It’s always nice to have a strong core of starters returning,” said Irish coach Mike Hines. “We’re expected to be led by a (starting) group of six juniors and five seniors.”
The senior trio of Jake Demarest (defender), Calvin Sanders (midfield) and Hunter Skornia (forward) headline the Irish’s starting lineup.
Demarest was a regional defensive player of the year and second team all-state selection in 2017.
Skornia (14 goals, seven assists) and Sanders (10 goals, one assist) were Catholic’s second- and third-leading scorers, respectively, last season.
“The preseason has gone well and we have a lot of excitement and energy for this season,” Sanders said.
Catholic graduated three starters in Kaueh Huttenlocher (leading scorer, first team all-state), Zach Straus (midfield, second team all-state) and Michael Zolfaghari (defender).
“While it’s really hard to replace last year’s seniors, I am confident we will be competitive this year,” Hines said.
Junior Nick Gomez returns as Catholic’s starting goalkeeper. He finished with a .8 goals against average last season.
Overall, the Irish posted 10 shutouts.
In addition to beating Republic and Kickapoo, Catholic finished undefeated all-time in COC-Small competition thanks to victories over Rogersville, Marshfield and Bolivar.
Catholic, Rogersville and Marshfield join the Big 8 Conference starting this fall. Catholic’s new conference slate includes matches against McDonald County, Monett, Aurora and Cassville.
Carthage and Ozark were the only other local teams to beat Catholic last season.
The Irish bring back around seven reserves from last year’s playoff roster.
The Irish also have building blocks for the future. Catholic will add an influx of youth with freshmen Carson Morgan and Keanu Baguio pushing for playing time.
“We expect those two freshmen to earn quality minutes on the field,” Hines said.
Catholic opens the regular season August 28 at Carthage.
The Irish are aiming for their first trip to the final four since 2014. Catholic fell to Monett in the sectional round in 2015 and 2017, and Fatima in the district finals in 2016.