By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Three district championships in the past four years. And things are still trending up for the area’s eastern-most soccer program.
Mountain View-Birch Tree/Liberty enters 2019 with increased roster numbers. Eagles coach Shelly Renegar, an alum of the program herself, is excited for the season ahead.
“We have more girls joining the team this year than ever before,” she said. “From what I can tell based on returning players, watching recreational soccer and preseason, this group of girls have the most potential any Liberty team has ever had, and I could not be more excited.”
Senior Amanda Mantel returns as one of the area’s most prominent goal scorers.
The two-time all-state selection has amassed 62 of Liberty’s 128 goals since 2015. As a junior last season, Mantel had 39 of Liberty’s 53 goals.
“She will lead the offense and the entire team this season with her dedication and motivation to improve every time we set foot on the field,” Renegar said.
Liberty’s defense is led by senior Abigail Reese. Renegar said Reese will play collegiately at the NAIA level next school year.
“She stopped several goal scoring opportunities with her speed and skill as a junior last year,” Renegar said.
Seniors Christian Radford and Sydney Wilson will also provide support in the back. Sydney Wilson gives Liberty another senior to turn to. Tehya Pierce is also back after not playing her junior season.
Renegar described Guadalupe Salinas, another senior, as the team’s “wildcard.”
“She plays where I need her, either on the field or in goal,” Renegar said.
In the junior class, Kennedy Cooley and Amber Collins will be key contributors for the Eagles. Collins didn’t play last season due to a knee injury.
“Kennedy improved tremendously last year and started to get really comfortable playing outside midfield,” Renegar said. “Amber will be a force to reckon with in the center of the field.”
Liberty finished 8-7 overall last season, falling to Fatima in the Class 1 quarterfinal round. Liberty also won its second straight district championship with a double-overtime win over Fair Grove.
Due to low numbers in previous seasons, Renegar said Liberty went through frequent lineup changes.
“We would often adjust the starting lineup, player positions, and our formation to ensure more success. The constant changes kept the team from building any kind of cohesive unity,” Renegar said. “Last year, we focused a lot on communication, intentional passing, anticipating the game and team bonding off the field.
“I anticipate us having talent in every position on the field, which will help us avoid issues caused by constant change.”
Renegar said Fatima is a hurdle Liberty must overcome. Fatima also ended Liberty’s season in the quarterfinals in 2017.
“I am hoping that the returning players will come in to the season with more motivation and dedication to getting ourselves better prepared for the postseason,” she said.
Liberty graduated a senior class that include Angelina Herold, Sydney Burton and Allie Marshall. Herold and Burton were team captains.
“We will greatly miss all of our 2018 seniors,” Renegar said. “Angelina leaves big shoes to fill because of her speed, heart, and ability to play anywhere on the field. Sydney’s leadership, control of the defense, and positive attitude has left a hole in our defense that will need to be filled by a returning player.
“Allie Marshall was a first-time soccer player last year, but her speed, endurance and sometimes rough play was another huge part of the success our defense had last year.”
Liberty has a strong returning sophomore class. Peyton Bush emerged as the team’s starting goalkeeper her freshman season. Mia Wagner was the team’s second-leading goal scorer (eight goals).
Sophomores Samantha Herold, Marley Kyle and Makayla Wilson will also be returning with experience.
Several upperclassmen are joining the team for the first time. They include seniors Hannah Jester and Tatum McCollough, and sophomores Kailey Anderson and Marie McClellan.
Liberty welcomes in two foreign exchange students, Amelia Avila and Lika Jalaghonia, both of which are seniors.
A freshmen class that includes Isobel Tripp, Abby Woolsey, Litzy Lopez, Tru Daniels, Jenna Koogler and Anastasia Rodriguez round out the roster.
“Many of these players have shown great potential in preseason,” Renegar said. “I hope to focus on last year’s goals, and add playing as a team, building individual confidence, gaining trust in teammates and figuring out how to create and take advantage of scoring opportunities.”
In addition to the string of district titles, Liberty’s posted a winning record in six of the past seven seasons.
Liberty opens the season March 15-16 at the Lebanon Tournament.