By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Fair Grove High School launched boys’ soccer less than a decade ago, and the Eagles haven’t taken long to develop into a winning program.
Fair Grove’s played a varsity schedule since 2012. In that span, they’ve only had one losing season – the inaugural varsity campaign in 2012. They’ve won 14 or more matches in four consecutive seasons.
Recently, Fair Grove’s fallen to traditional southwest Missouri power Springfield Catholic come districts – but the Eagles aren’t deterred.
“We think it’s a very reasonable goal to try to get back to the district final and face (Catholic) for the third time in four years,” said Eagles coach Joseph Florez.
Fair Grove brings back several key varsity contributors in 2018.
Senior Maicol Newkirk was an all-region selection last year. He led Fair Grove in scoring as a sophomore and again last year as a junior.
“Maicol is a fiery, hard-working goal scorer, as well as a willing passer, and is our most dangerous player,” Florez said. “He learned last year that as teams tried to double and triple team him, he could simply find the open guy for easy goals.”
Senior Kyle Stacey orchestrates Fair Grove’s attack from the midfield.
“Kyle has all the physical tools to dominate the game, and he is also a very smart and aggressive player,” Florez said.
Senior Kamron Stacey brought stability to Fair Grove’s defense last season. The former midfielder made a positional switch and became a team captain at sweeper.
“Last year he had a lot of experience on each side of him, but this year it will be on Kamron as we transition some new players into the mix with him,” Florez said. “We will also look for Kamron to really help us start the possession out of the back and look to connect quickly to our attacking players for dangerous counter-attacks.”
Florez praised the improvement of Griffin Merillat, who went from overmatched freshman on the varsity to a sophomore difference-maker. Merillat, a junior, will likely play a defensive midfield role.
“Often times, he’ll mark the other team’s best attacker and sacrifice his own stats for team wins,” Florez said. “Griffin is absolutely the kind of player that sets an example to the rest of the team for how they should act on and off the field, and what it takes to win.”
Senior Dylan Mooneyham was a move-in from Hillcrest last season. Florez is eager to see Mooneyham “establish a role on our roster and be a consistent contributor.”
Overall, Florez expects Fair Grove to be strong in the middle of the field.
“Maicol should really be able to lead our offense at the forward position, Kyle will control play in the middle for us at the center-mid position, and Kamron can really assert himself on the defensive side of the ball,” he said.
Fair Grove finished 15-7-1 overall last season and fell to Springfield Catholic in the district finals. The Eagles graduated Garret Potter, Brian Carroll, Ryan Padgett, Alex Brewer, Noah Argenta and Preston Thompson.
Freshmen Josh Orr and Andrew Shurtz, sophomore Stephen Dunham and junior Jack McAtee will look to fill the graduation void.
Orr brings speed, size and playmaking to Fair Grove’s attack, while Shurtz has already shown a stellar soccer IQ for his age.
“We expect (Orr) to get a lot of varsity play time for us right away, as he comes to us with a lot of playing experience,” Florez said. “I’m expecting Andrew to help our varsity right away, whether as a starter or one of our first subs off the bench.”
Dunham started on the JV and played limited varsity minutes last season. McAtee was a first-year player last season but quickly earned varsity minutes.
“This year, I expect Stephen to compete for a starting role on the varsity. He is a hard worker, with a good attitude, who is always improving,” Florez said. “We expect (Jack) to compete for a starting spot on the wing or at the outside back role.”
Fair Grove opens the regular season Aug. 24-25 at the Lebanon Tournament.