By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The beginning of the 2018 season looked considerably different than the Willard Lady Tigers had anticipated.
The Lady Tigers lost two starting defenders to knee injuries before they had a chance to suit up for the season, but the team regrouped to finish 12-11 and advance to the Class 3 District 11 championship.
“It really changed our strategic mind-set as we approached the season,” Willard head coach Tim Magee said. “We had a large influx of freshmen and athletic young ladies who didn’t have a lot of soccer experience. Considering all things, we had a good season. We saw improvement as the year went on and are hoping to continue that into this coming season.”
While replacing those defenders, which included Maddy Bouse, who graduated last spring, was a challenge, the Lady Tigers will have to fill the void left by Bouse and goalkeeper Joran Stout-Mitchell.
Stout-Mitchell, who recorded four shutouts, was a first-team all-district and all-Central Ozark Conference selection. She is playing soccer for Evangel University.
Bouse also is at Evangel, playing volleyball.
“Joran was one of the best goalkeepers in the area, without question,” Magee said. “With the two major injuries on the defense, she had to keep us in games while the new ladies were learning on the fly. Her leadership from that position will be missed tremendously.
“Maddy will be missed because of her leadership from the sideline. It would’ve been real easy for her, as a senior, to step aside after her knee injury. She did the exact opposite and inserted herself everywhere she could. She was the true definition of a leader; her positive attitude will be missed.”
Willard, which finished 4-4 in the COC, returns a lot of experience with five seniors and two sophomores.
• Emily Oedewaldt, sophomore, forward – Scored 37 goals and added 8 assists; was named first-team all-district and all-COC
• Jada Holloman, sophomore, forward – Scored 12 goals and had 5 assists; was a second-team all-district selection
• Hannah Bird, senior, midfielder – Was second-team all-district and all-COC pick
• Josie Sanders, senior, defender/midfielder
• Natalie Sims, senior, defender
• Maddie Keith, senior, defender
• Jackie Pence, senior, defender/midfielder – Returns from a knee injury
“Even the younger players have played a lot of soccer over the years, and will take a leadership position,” Magee said. “We have more sophomores who got that varsity experience as freshmen who we know will step up and help in major ways this season.”
Magee said it is yet to be determined what newcomers will step up this season, but Stout-Mitchell’s loss is a big hole that needs to be filled.
“We need one of those younger players, whether on JV last season or new to the program, to step up and fill those very large shoes,” Magee said. “Soccer experience and IQ (will be a challenge to overcome). We need those young ladies who haven’t been playing all their lives to jump in feet-first, absorb the knowledge and educate their feet as quickly as possible.”
And, that’s because expectations are to win a district championship.
“We always go into the season with the expectation of winning the district title,” Magee said. “Even though we came up one game short against a very good Bolivar team (a 2-1 loss in the Class 3 District 11 final), we still had a successful season. A lot of our youth stepped up and filled some holes left by the previous seniors.”
Magee, who has a career record of 74-52-1 at Willard, also is hopeful that the experience gained by the younger players last year will benefit the Lady Tigers this season.
“The mix of older, experienced players with the younger players, who now have a season under their belts (will be the biggest strength),” Magee said. “We expect our seniors to lead and last year’s youth to continue to mature.”
As Willard aims for a district title, unity is key, Magee said, as it heads into its season-opener at Logan-Rogersville on March 19.
“It’s very simple,” Magee said, “we have to play as a team. If we can hold each other up, we can achieve the goals we will set.”