By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Josh Thompson is no stranger to Joplin High School as an assistant coach with the boys’ soccer program since 2016-17.
Now, Thompson will take over the girls program, inheriting a team that won its most games (11) since 2014.
While he is familiar with many of his players, taking over a new program always presents challenges to a first-year head coach. It makes creating culture that is reflective of the new regime imperative.
“Establishing a strong team identity is one of my priorities,” said Thompson. “I want every player to be able to identify who we are as a team and what we are trying to accomplish on the pitch.”
The talent of Thompson’s players is undeniable.
Led by Drury signee Emma Briley, the Lady Eagles return most of last year’s roster and will look to continue to steer the program in the right direction. Briley is a four-year starter that earned All-Ozark Conference and All-District honors in 2018. She’s led Joplin in goals in each of the last three seasons.
Joining Briley as both an All-Ozark Conference and All-District performer is junior MariKathryn Saunders. She will again lead the Lady Eagles defensively. All-District Shli Kinkead also returns to her midfield position.
They are just three of the returners that Thompson expects to make major contributions this season.
“Emma Briey and Ravyn Price have been very successful in the past as attacking threats and offensive creators,” said Thompson. “Ashley Beebe and Annabelle Erisman have done great work in the midfield and defense. MariKathryn Saunders and Katie Gray have provided a strong backbone for the defensive line. Shli Kinkead has been excellent at connecting our midfield and providing us structure. Mya Johnson will also be making the move to goalie this season. Overall, we have a solid core that plays well together, and I am expecting other returning players to be a part of it as well.”
Joplin also has several newcomers and underclassmen that could push for larger roles and more varsity minutes.
“Madeleine Farber, Chloe Walters, and Lilly Conroy are returning players, but we will be looking for them to step into bigger varsity roles than in the past,” said Thompson. “We have a few skilled freshmen coming in as well. There is going to be pressure on everyone around the pitch to keep improving because there are several challengers looking for varsity time.”
Joplin enjoyed a five-game winning streak at one point last season, helping a group that had pockets of inexperience learn how to win big games.
The Lady Eagles lost six games by a single goal, something that should be helped with such a veteran roster.
Maybe the silver lining of it all is a move to the COC, where Joplin beat Carthage, Willard and Webb City, racking up a 6-4 record against COC teams in the regular season.
Moving from the Ozark Conference to the COC will certainly present its challenges, Thompson and the Lady Eagles are excited about what lies ahead.
“This will be our first year in the COC and it is typically a tough conference,” said Thompson. “I think the competition will benefit us greatly. I’m excited to be working with this group of young women.”
Joplin will open the 2019 season on March 25 at Parkview. The Thompson Era will have its home opener on March 26 against McDonald County.