By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
For the second-straight season, the Kickapoo Lady Chiefs captured the Class 4 District 10 championship in 2018.
But, for the first time since 2005, the Lady Chiefs brought home the Ozark Conference title.
Kickapoo denied Rolla a fourth-straight OC crown with a 2-1 win over the Bulldogs on May 3, and then sealed its first OC title in 13 years with a 2-1 win over Glendale, as the Lady Chiefs finished with a perfect 9-0 record.
“I was happy for our kids to get that monkey off our back with the conference title drought,” said head coach Phil Hodge, who has coached at Kickapoo for 12 years. “In most of the previous years, we had been one game away from at least sharing part of the title but could not manage to finish it off.”
As the OC title came down to the end of the season, last year’s district crown came down to the final penalty kick, as then-junior Harlow Klein buried the game-winner for a 1-1 (4-3 PKs) win over Ozark and Kickapoo’s 16th district title.
“Last year’s team had a very high soccer IQ and played hard for each other,” said Hodge, who has a combined record of 366-203-7. “They battled through an extremely difficult schedule and ended the year with a district championship.”
A big key to the Lady Chiefs’ success was the Class of 2018, including all-staters Lily Simphaly-Ragsdale and Rebecca Crocker.
Simphaly-Ragsdale, who was a four-year starter, was named to the Class 4 All-State first team, the Class 4 All-Region 3 team, was the Class 4 District 10 Most Valuable Player and the OC MVP. She scored 1 goal and had 2 assists last season.
Crocker was an all-state second-team and all-region selection, was named the Class 4 District 10 Defensive MVP and the OC Co-Defender of the Year. She scored 1 goal last season. She is playing soccer at Drury University.
Other key losses from last year’s squad include:
• Corinne Edelen, a four-year starter at defender, who was an all-region, all-district and all-conference first-team selection.
• Maddie McLain, who played every position over the course of her career at Kickapoo, was an all-district second-team pick.
• Midfielders Kori Cowger and Morgan Gunther, were named to the all-conference second team, while Ally Maska, an outside midfielder/forward, also is lost to graduation.
“These young ladies defined what it meant to be a Lady Chief,” Hodge said. “They excelled not only on the field but also in the classroom. They each brought such a personality to our program and had a very successful senior season.”
But, the Lady Chiefs, who finished 15-9-1 overall and 9-0 in the OC last year, are rarely short on talent.
Back for Kickapoo are senior defenders Harlow Klein (4 assists last season), Katelyn Day and Grace O’Rourke, and midfielder Caroline Ulmer.
“Harlow defends extremely well and has a high soccer IQ,” Hodge said. “She has three years of varsity experience and, with that, we look for her to lead our team moving forward.
“Katelyn will look to help secure our back line as she is a tough defender to beat and has an aggressive mentality going forward, as well.
“Caroline is a center-mid-type, who wants to help control the pace of play. Grace also is a very smart player with a high soccer IQ, and will help anchor our back line, as well.”
In addition, the Lady Chiefs return a talented junior class including Jalyn McClean, Serena Boyce, Ellie Miller and McKenzie Salyers.
McClean, a forward, scored 12 goals and had 3 assists in limited action last season, after tallying 20 goals as a freshman. She was an all-district selection and was named to the all-conference second team.
“Jalyn was injured with a knee injury for more than half of the season last year,” Hodge said. “She looks rested and ready to contribute in her junior season as she has high expectations for herself.”
Boyce, a forward, scored 13 goals and had 6 assists, and was named to the all-district and all-conference first teams.
“As good as Serena has been as a freshman and sophomore, she has really progressed and this offseason and looks to have a great junior year,” Hodge said. “Serena has leadership qualities and we look for her to be a leader for us.”
Miller, midfielder/forward, scored 13 goals and had 8 assists. She was an all-district and all-conference first-team selection.
“Ellie plays extremely hard and I love that about her,” Hodge said. “She is fearless and plays through nagging injuries and still manages to find the back of the net. Ellie is willing to do whatever it takes for the betterment of the team. She is a winner and wants the team to win.”
Also back for the Lady Chiefs are McKenzie Salyers, junior defender (1 goal, 1 assist) and sophomores Chloe Young (goalkeeper, 5 shutouts) and Teddi Riddle (forward, 3 goals, 4 assists).
“McKenzie is a natural defender and is very comfortable on the back line,” Hodge said. “She is very vocal and is a very smart and confident player to lead our defense.
“Chloe came in as a freshman last year and did a fine job with an extremely difficult schedule. She will even tell you it was a little bit of an eye-opener now playing with seniors as a freshman and wanting to not let them down.
“She did a fantastic job and had no bigger save than the PK in the penalty kick shootout against Ozark to win back-to-back district titles.
“Teddi started getting more and more varsity minutes midway through the season last year as a freshman. Teddi brings an attacking style and wants to get to the goal.”
Newcomers who could contribute this Spring include sophomores Madeline Wanner, Emma Sansom and freshman Abby Light.
“Maddie has looked extremely confident this offseason as she is coming back from a broken foot around November,” Hodge said. “She is a possession-style midfielder who looks to slow the pace down and keep the possession.
“Emma is an extremely smart player who will look to contribute at the varsity level this Spring, as well.
“Abby is a competitor. She has high soccer IQ and can play several different positions, as she is confident with the ball going forward and can help lock down the back line.”
The Lady Chiefs, who picked up key wins last year over Cor Jesu Academy, Rolla, Jefferson City and Ozark, will again open the season with a challenging schedule. The first few weeks of the schedule include out-of-area schools Columbia Rock Bridge, which defeated Kickapoo the past two seasons in the sectional round, Harrison, Ark., and Lutheran South, Visitation Academy and Waterloo in the Parkway Showcase in St. Louis.
“Eight of our nine losses last year ended up being district champions,” Hodge said. “We open with Rock Bridge on March 23. It is always very difficult going to Columbia and beating a Rock Bridge team. Several of our current players are well aware that they have ended our season in the last two sectional games.”
Kickapoo will host a jamboree on March 7 that includes Nixa and Glendale, before heading to Columbia, with the hopes of competing for another conference and district championship.
“Our focus right now is to just get better every day; come to practice and compete and make each other better every day,” Hodge said. “I love our culture right now with our group. We have great team chemistry and want to be coached and want to be successful.
“Like every year, we want to be in position at the end of the year to have a chance at a district title and be in the discussion for a conference title as the season winds down.”