By Chris Parker
Greenwood soccer graduated a strong senior group from 2016’s Class 2 Final Four team. It took the Blue Jays a bit to get going in 2017, but they proved their staying power as a program by winning a second straight district championship.
“Our senior class last year stepped up after all those seniors (from the 2016 team) graduated. The seniors were a huge reason why we won districts last year,” Greenwood head coach Chris Shull said. “We struggled early in the season last year. Despite the struggles, the team stayed positive, worked hard and made a solid run at the end of the season.”
Greenwood fell 3-0 to Crocker in the Class 1 quarterfinals to finish the season 8-12 overall. The Blue Jays will again have to reload after losing five offensive and three defensive seniors from last season’s team.
Senior all-district selection John Sharp returns to key the offense at forward.
“John’s first year playing soccer at Greenwood was last year. He is mentally tough and now with a year under his belt, he has technically improved. John is now a senior and we expect good things from him this season,” Shull said.
He and junior Joseph Rollison combined for 15 goals and eight assists last year. Rollison will return to the midfield and be joined by Garet Litherland (senior) and Hugh McWay (sophomore).
The graduations of defenders Jared Henry, Joseph Brock and Akki Coller will be tough to replace both on the field and as leaders.
“All three of these players were high character individuals, talented, and were perfect mentors to underclassman,” Shull said. “I credit their leadership to our underclassman’s success.”
Aiden McQueary will return to provide a steady presence in goal.
“Aiden McQueary was thrown into the fire early as a freshman as a starting goalie,” Shull said. “We qualified for the final four that year so he had to grow up fast and he did.”
Zach Bailey and Gavin Duncan are two freshmen who have caught Shull’s eye in the early going. The lineup will be a work in progress for Greenwood until the right mix of players is found.
“I always make a mock starting line up before the season but have a completely different one in the middle and at the end of the season,” Shull said. “Players who are not in that early line-up will step up or we will find strengths unforeseen from other players as the season progresses. As a coach, I enjoy this process and the constant evolving of player’s potential and versatility makes it interesting.”
That evolution and growth as a team is a big goal for the Blue Jays.
“(We want) to be competitive and to grow as a team. At Greenwood, we set the expectations and bring players up to that level in a positive, but demanding learning environment. We do play “up” in terms of competing against bigger schools (on our schedule) but try to learn from each experience. We go through growing pains through the season but we strive to stay positive and want to perform well by the end of the season.”
Greenwood opens the season on Aug. 28 at West Plains.