By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Pointing to his team’s balance offensively, Branson coach David Brenner wants the Pirates to take aim at the program’s single-season record of 46 goals.
“Offensively, we’re going to be as strong as we’ve ever been,” Brenner said. “We have a shot at setting a new scoring number for our school. We’ve got a lot of unselfish people. They will give the ball to someone in a better position to score. They’re not worried about personal stats. They’re all about the win.
“We feel if we score an average of two goals a game, we’ve got a good chance to win.”
Branson, fresh from a 15-8 season, welcomes back three players who reached double figures in goals a year ago. Dwight Hyde and Cris Abarca, both forwards, topped the Pirates with 13 goals apiece and Justice Webber posted 10.
Hyde also had 13 assists.
Webber showed off his exceptionally strong and accurate right leg last year, even as a defender .
“Justice was our free-kick specialist,” Brenner said. “He has a really strong leg. We’re moving him up the field this year”
Hyde and Webber are among six seniors, a class that accounted four full-time starters and two part-time starters last season.
“This is a senior group I’ve had close contact with since they were in the seventh grade,” Brenner said. “They started our middle school program and have grown up in our system. So, we have good expectations for them to have a good senior year.”
In addition to Hyde, Webber and Abarca, returning starters include Brady Brashers, Nino Stiglianese, Blake Stoner, Brenden Melendez, Jose Escobar and Isaiah Reyes.
Stiglianese contributed eight goals and nine assists last season.
Brenner feels his defense will make teams earn everything they get.
“Our center mid-fielders are the strength of our team,” Brenner said. “We will try to push people out wide and force them to try to beat us with something spectacular, not something easy.”
Branson will have a new goalkeeper, with Zach Turner and Garrett Smith vying for the job.
“Zach doesn’t look like a goalkeeper necessarily, but is aggressive and smart,” Brenner sad. “He knows how to use his hands. Garrett has got the look of a goalkeeper. He has long arms and a good reaction time.”
Given the Pirates’ slew of proven players, Brenner likes their chances of contending for their first Central Ozark Conference championship.
Branson was 4-4 in league matches last year.
“We’re pretty optimistic and looking forward to competing,” Brenner said. “In the COC, we think we can play with anybody. The guys have worked hard this off-season and measured themselves during club ball against the best players in the state.”