By Chris Parker
Since 2015, no area team has matched Monett’s postseason standards.
The Cubs have reached the state quarterfinals in Class 2 in three consecutive seasons, including a state runner-up finish in 2016.
But, as coach Cristobal Villa has seen, key players from those teams eventually graduate.
The Cubs took another graduation hit following the 2017 season. They said good bye to a 10-player senior class for the second straight year.
“We’re going to be very young this year, but with some great talent,” Villa said. “Losing 10 players really hurts a team, but we are very confident that our boys will be stepping up and playing to their best.”
The good news: The Cubs will again unleash one of the state’s most dynamic players.
Senior Jason Puente is a three-time all-state selection and the reigning Class 2 offensive player of the year.
He registered 48 goals last season and has 136 total for his career. He ranks No. 3 on Missouri’s all-time list for goals.
“Jason’s been one of the best strikers we have had in our program,” Villa said. “He’s not shown it once or twice, but three times. We look forward to him finishing strong for his senior year.”
Returning alongside Puente include the likes of junior Esvin Merida (forward), sophomore Joshua Patino (goalkeeper), senior Brayan Rodriguez (defender) and sophomore Johnny Perez (defender/midfielder).
After stellar play on the JV, Villa thinks Merida could have a breakout season in 2018.
“Esvin has been waiting for the opportunity to have more minutes on varsity, and this is the year,” Villa said. “He’s scored over 60 goals on the JV and some important goals on the varsity level. He’ll be ready to play along side Jason this year.”
Patino started at goalkeeper as a freshman and registered eight shutouts to go with 352 saves.
“He has the size, length and good hands at goalkeeper that gives our team comfort and trust,” Villa said.
Rodriguez brings experience to Monett’s back line. Perez earned varsity playing time as a freshman and also generates offense from the back.
“Brayan’s a solid, smart defender who will be tough to go through. He will be a good leader for us in the back,” Villa said. “Johnny was solid last year but is coming back stronger and more mature this year. He can also score even though he’s playing defense. He knows how to move on the attack.”
Senior Loger Rodriguez is back for his fourth varsity season and brings a dangerous presence on the outside.
“We’re going to play more through him this year,” Villa said. “He’s a very talented and dangerous player on the attack.”
Among Monett’s 10-player senior class that graduated after last season, three signed with local progams.
Freddy Ramirez signed with Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar. Adrian Moncivaiz and Andres Cecenas both signed with Evangel University in Springfield.
Villa knows new leaders will need to emerge.
“What I’m eager to see in my team this year is heart,” Villa said. “Every year we play with heart, and this year I expect the same. (Our players) know the work and passion we put into our program.”
Look for players like sophomore Eduardo Rodriguez, junior Gerardo Patino and senior Pablo Grimaldo to move into more prominent roles.
“Eduardo’s shown great thing this summer and it won’t surprise us to see him starting on varsity,” Villa said. “He’s quick on the ball, and that’s exactly what we need in the midfield.”
Patino provides versatility. Grimaldo will contribute defensively.
“Gerardo will cover a lot of positions,” Villa said. “He could player forward, midfield or even defense. He’s a smart player and it’s not easy to play well in all areas. He played exceptional on the JV last year.
“Pablo’s strong and aggressive on defense and going for the ball. He played for us on varsity as a freshman and we’re glad to have him back again.”
Monett hosts Branson on August 25 to open the regular season.
Other notable regular season games for the Cubs include Nixa (Sept. 6), Springfield Catholic (Sept. 20), Republic (Sept. 27), the Kickapoo Shootout (Sept. 28-29) and Carthage (Oct. 11).
A revamped Big 8 means the Cubs will compete against conference teams for the first time in program history.
“We must be good in all areas, especially with the schedule we have and our conference,” Villa said. “I want to see how our boys will deliver the finished product on the field.”