By John Miller (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After finishing 13-9 last year and exiting districts in the opening round, the Central Bulldogs girls’ soccer team is eager for the upcoming season.
Veteran coach Chris Welch is now in the 18th year as the head coach of the girls’ program and just completed the 16th year leading the boys’ soccer program at Central. The boys’ program was restarted in 2002.
Gone from last year are three key players: Danielle Barstead, Ahri Eyerman, and Jaiden Ellerbee. Barstead, a Class 4 All-District 10 selection last season, is now playing collegiately at Williams Baptist University.
“Danielle was instrumental in leading our midfield as well as pushing herself and the forwards into scoring opportunities,” Welch said.
Eyerman and Ellerbee are attending Mizzou and Arkansas, respectively, but aren’t playing soccer. Ellerbee suffered a knee injury, causing her to not pursue soccer at the college level.
“Ahri is a smart and talented forward,” Welch said. “She combined on many plays with Danielle. Prior to injuries with us, Jaiden was not only a strong presence in the Central defense, but also a team leader on and off the field.”
This spring, Central will lean on the play of two key returners in juniors Kourtney Tucker (22 goals last season as a midfielder and two-time all-district selection) and Addie Pearman.
“Kourtney looks to become an increased presence on the back line,” said Welch. “We will count on her to provide offense with numerous opportunities to score as well as make runs for herself from the back line this season. Addie is also a strength on the back line. She was a duo with Kourtney last year in the center back position, combining skill and leadership in key games.”
Central also returns junior all-district goalkeeper Maggie Courtney, who recorded nine shutouts last season.
Newcomers to the team include freshmen Holland Hawkins and Olivia Brinkman. Hawkins is the third from her family to play for Welch at Central. Her sister, Aspen, is the all-time leading scorer at Central and played collegiately at William Jewell. Another sister, Ireland, was a strong midfielder and is currently a member of the William Jewell soccer team.
“As a freshman, Holland is one of the strongest players who will enter the program and be a natural force in the center midfield, where she will replace recent graduates Danielle Barstead and/or Ahri Eyerman’s offensive positions,” Welch said.
Brinkman should provide the Bulldogs with quality play in the midfield.
“She looks to be a solid midfielder that can guide scoring opportunities for the offensive line,” Welch said.
Both Hawkins and Brinkman have extensive experience playing club soccer, which will help them acclimate to play at the varsity level.
Strengths of the team should be leadership and the experience the players have in playing higher-level soccer.
“Our group of girls has a great commitment to the team/program and they love their teammates,” Welch said.
Welch has high hopes for the team’s season, knowing that its core group of returners will lead the way to another successful year for Central soccer.
“I expect that the returning players will have a major impact on our season again this year,” Welch said. “The core group of juniors are strong leaders and will not only be influential on both offense and defense on their own, but also in elevating their new teammates to be a successful varsity team.”