By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
If there is one that can be counted on when the Waynesville Tigers step onto the pitch, it is they will work hard and compete just as hard.
The Tigers showed that toughness by finishing the 2017 season strong, even though it ended with a 4-3 loss to state semifinalist Kickapoo in the Class 4 District 9 championship game. Waynesville finished 11-13 overall and 5-4, good for fifth place, in the Ozark Conference.
“The boys fought hard during the season,” said Mike Armstrong, who is entering his 12th year at Waynesville. “They had a great showing at their Senior Night against Camdenton, as we had a good crowd and a nice showing of support from the military. They also won the Kickapoo Shootout (going 3-0) for the second time in school history.
“The final district game was very close, losing 4-3 to Kickapoo, which went on to have a great state tournament run. The boys played above their ability level to compete in that game, and learned how to work together for a common goal and to put the team first.”
Heading into 2018, the Tigers face the task of replacing eight seniors, including Class 4 District 9 Offensive MVP and All-Region forward Daniel Sesay. He also earned first-team all-conference honors and was the Tigers’ leading goal scorer. Other key players lost to graduation include: Joey Cartwright, center midfielder, first-team all-district, second-team all-conference; Alex Rodriguez, defender, second-team all-district, honorable mention all-conference; Brandon Burkett, defender/midfielder, second-team all-district; Austin Slatcher, forward; Cameron Wilbur, defender; Gunnar Coonrod, defender; and Bryan Moose, defender/midfielder, who is going on to play at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.
“All the seniors were key players in our team’s makeup,” said Armstrong, who was named Class 4 District 9 co-Coach of the Year. “What will be missed the most is the type of people these guys were. At this level, everyone can play soccer, but not everyone can make the people around them better. These guys are just great people.”
The key returnees for Waynesville are led by junior goalkeeper Isaac Swanson, a first-team all-district and second-team all-conference selection.
“He has been a starter for us the last two years and really holds us together,” Armstrong said of Swanson. “We will also be looking for Angel Longoria and David Havlin to step up and lead us as seniors. We believe Nate Taylor, Ryan Wilburn, Dayton Griffin and Max Cordova will round out our team. You just never know who is willing to put in the work to fill one of the eight starting spots these seniors are leaving.”
As for what newcomers are coming in, Armstrong says it’s a wait-and-see game.
“We always have a lot of new players and younger ones are ready to step up,” Armstrong said. “We are still waiting to see what this year will bring us. Our JV team did well and our summer workouts are really helping develop them into varsity material.”
Waynesville will be hosting a jamboree that will include Rolla and Washington on Aug. 21, before hosting Republic to open the season on Aug. 24.
“We are hoping to build on the passion for the game that the last few teams have shown,” Armstrong said. “Our strength is our determination. We know we are not the most-talented team ever, but we work hard and love to play. We believe hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”