By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Bolivar Liberators boys’ soccer program will have a different look heading into the 2018 season.
The Liberators, who finished 14-9 overall and 1-2 in the Central Ozark Conference Small division last year, lost the core of its production to graduation – led by all-state goalkeeper Will vanHoornbeek.
vanHoornbeek was a mainstay in goal for three of his four years at Bolivar and recorded six shutouts last season. He was a Class 3 all-state honorable mention selection and earned Class 3 All-Region, Class 3 District 11 and COC first-team honors in 2017.
Also gone from last year’s squad are forwards Evan Haney and Andrew Spaulding, and center midfielder Chris Holt. Haney tallied 22 goals and nine assists, while Holt added nine goals and 10 assists for the Liberators. Haney also earned all-region, all-district and COC first-team honors last season and will join vanHoornbeek this fall at Southwest Baptist University.
“The leadership of this class was top-notch. It will be hard to beat on that level,” said Steve Fast, who is in his 23rd year at Bolivar. “We graduated our goalkeeper, both forwards and a center-mid. All of these guys made great contributions to our team on and off the field. They will be greatly missed and tough to replace.”
The Liberators, whose season ended with a 2-0 loss to Carthage in the district semifinals, do return a strong group of incoming juniors and seniors, who contributed to the team’s success in 2017.
“I think we surprised some people with how we were able to step up and compete in every game,” Fast said of last season. “We had several sophomores (now juniors) really step up and compete at a high level. We also had a whole new defense, which surprised us with some quality play, especially later in the season.”
The returning players Fast will be counting on in 2018 include: Alex Maldenado, a junior midfielder/forward, who was an all-district second-team selection in 2017; Dylan Rowell, a junior midfielder, who also earned all-district second-team honors; Quenton Hoffman, junior, midfielder; Mason Taylor, senior, defender; Travis Bradley, senior, defender; and Nick Genovese, senior, forward.
“These guys got a lot of playing time last year and gained some valuable varsity experience that will, hopefully, help them to excel this year,” Fast said. “We hope they can build on what they accomplished last year and be the leaders of our team on the field.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Raif Fullerton has some big shoes to fill, but has been working with vanHoornbeek to learn as much, and as fast, as he can.
“He is very athletic and aggressive and we are looking forward to watching him in goal,” Fast said.
Other newcomers Fast is looking to make an impact this season are: Christian Warwick, junior, forward/midfielder; Jackson Woods, sophomore, defender; Lathan Martin, freshman, defender; Luke Richards, freshman, defender; Cale Tiessen, freshman, forward; River Adams, freshman, midfield; and juniors John Hubbert, Vic Contreras, Noah Farr and Lance Rice.
“These guys will all have a varsity role in some aspect,” Fast said. “We are looking to fill some defensive spots with Woods, Martin and Richards – all potentially playing a large role in the defense. We are going to have to coach them up and get them prepared for varsity play as quick as possible.”
Fast will be counting on Tiessen, Warwick and Adams to provide some offense, while looking to his juniors to provide depth at all positions.
“Tiessen will provide an offensive impact from the mid or forward position with his quickness and skill,” Fast said. “Warwick has been the JV forward the past two years and we are looking forward to him stepping up to varsity this year. He works hard and is very aggressive when attacking the goal. Adams will provide a strong presence in the midfield and has scoring ability.”
While the Liberators have the numbers, inexperience will be something they will have to work to overcome this season.
“This will be a unique year for us as we, once again, are trying to build a defense,” Fast said. “We will be young and inexperienced in the back. Our guys will work hard to find the right combination of guys that gives our team the best chance to compete.
“We only have four seniors, so the bulk of our team will be underclassmen. We look forward to working with all our players and trying to prepare them for games the best we can.”
Fast is confident that the strength of his junior class and the potential of his freshmen will provide the spark the Liberators will need.
“I think our junior class is our biggest strength,” Fast said. “We have several returning starters and we have several guys in that class who we are hoping to step up this year and provide some quality varsity play.
“I think some guys in our freshman class can make a big impact on our team. It is yet to be seen or proven, but it will be interesting to see which of these guys really step up this year.”
To get things started, Bolivar will participate in a jamboree at Camdenton with Branson and Lebanon on Aug. 20 before opening the season with Aurora on Aug. 24 at home.