By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Willard welcomes back three starters with significant varsity experience. The Tigers will lean on that trio as they retool a lineup that graduated eight varsity contributors.
“Everything hinges upon us being able to play as one unit,” said Willard coach Tim Magee. “The quicker we are able to gel, the more success we will have. We lost a lot from last season, so we will be depending upon some of the younger players to fill that void as the season goes along.”
Cole Oedewaldt enters his fourth season as a varsity starter. He’s emerged as one of the area’s most versatile players.
Oedewaldt had 13 goals and six assists last season.
“He’s played any position we have asked of him, from defense to midfield, to striker and even goalkeeper,” Magee said. “His skill level and soccer IQ have made him a valuable player to this program.”
Riley Young (forward/midfielder) earned all-region honors last season, behind 22 goals and nine assists. The four-year starter is known for his work ethic.
“He has no ‘off’ button,” Magee said. “He lives to compete at does so at a high level.”
Caden Smith is Willard’s lone returning defensive starter.
“He’ll have no issues stepping up and taking the leadership role that we’ll need in the back this year,” Magee said. “Where he’ll play in the back is still up in the air, but his experience will be leaned upon quite heavily.”
Willard finished 15-11 overall last season. The Tigers fell 2-1 to Republic in their district opener; Republic went on to reach the Class 3 state final four.
Willard graduated Dyllon Schmehl, Mikal Warner, Turner Sevon, Zach Kauffman, Taylor Davis, Alex Harsh, Jarrett Johnson and Luis Galaviz.
As the defense gels, Willard will try to control the game offensively.
“We have quite a mix of age and experience combined with youth and, well, inexperience at the varsity level,” Magee said. “We are going to work hard and we are going to play an attacking style… The better we can be offensively, the more time it will give our defense to learn to play as a unit.”
Varsity newcomers include sophomores Trevor Highley (goalkeeper) and Will Johnson (forward).
Highley’s replacing a four-year starter in Sevon. Johnson played in a handful of varsity matches last season but is looking for a bigger impact this year after a productive offseason of training.
Magee is eager to see how his young players adapt to the rigors of varsity play.
“Our schedule has been strengthened over the years. This will help our (new) lineup play as a unit,” Magee said. “The goal is to be ready for the end-of-the-year tournaments.”
Willard opens the regular season Aug. 24-25 at the Smith-Cotton Tournament in Sedalia.