By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Smart, funny and good at soccer.
Central hoisted the Class 4 District 10 tournament crown on its home field Wednesday night, defeating Republic 2-1. Bulldogs junior Kourtney Tucker scored the game’s decisive goal in the 58th minute.
The third district title in program history – Central also won its district in 2012 and 2015 – comes for a group that excels in jokes and grade point averages (GPAs).
“They’re fun to be around,” said Central coach, Dr. Christine Welch. “They’re hilarious. I’m constantly laughing. They’re extremely intelligent students as well.”
Welch estimated that over 95 percent of the Bulldogs’ roster are in the international baccalaureate (IB) program – a rigorous academic pathway designed for high-achieving students.
The Lady Bulldogs will travel to Kickapoo or Ozark in a Class 4 sectional on May 21. Kickapoo and Ozark play for the District 9 title Thursday at 5 p.m. in Branson.
Central (15-6-1 overall) has won 11 straight matches.
What’s keyed that winning streak?
“Communication and chemistry, definitely,” Tucker said. “We’re working together very well and we’re communicating on and off the field. We have good chemistry as teammates and friends.”
Said Welch: “Everybody has come together. They’ve figured out, ‘Hey, we can do this!’”
Tucker put the Lady Bulldogs ahead for good with a swift blast from about 30 yards out.
“I don’t what happened,” Tucker said. “(The ball) was coming to me and I saw it. I looked to my right, checked my shoulder, and saw that I had a lot of space and I just ripped it.”
Tucker entered the match less than 100 percent. In fact, Welch admitted she missed the go-ahead goal because she was looking at substitution options for her fatigued and ill midfielder.
“(Kourtney) just got sick (recently),” Welch said. “It was an upper-respiratory thing. We had (two) games last week, back-to-back, in the rain. I think that’s how it started.”
Republic tied the match in the 50th minute on a goal from senior Anna Jones. But from there, coach Kevin Hauck said, Republic’s energy level waned.
Republic had an opportunity to go up 1-0 in the fourth minute. The shot hit the crossbar.
“I thought we had good possession and, at times, dominated the game,” Hauck said. “We just weren’t taking shots though and creating enough (scoring) opportunities.”
Central goalkeeper Maggie Courtney denied at least two Republic scoring chances with key saves in the 38th and 55th minutes.
Freshman Holland Hawkins gave Central the lead in the 35th minute. She first beat the goalkeeper to a 50-50 ball.
Hawkins’ initial shot hit the left post, but she converted on the rebound.
“We just had to keep pushing and not give up,” Tucker said. “It’s very easy to come back from a tie or a 1-0 deficit, and we knew that. We just had to make sure we could hold ourselves there.”
Hawkins’ older sisters – Aspen and Ireland – also won district soccer championships at Central.
Republic, which beat Central in PKs in the regular season, finishes 16-9 overall. The Lady Tigers graduate a large senior class, but bring back several underclassmen who played key roles this season.
“Overall, we have a strong sophomore group and some really good freshmen that I think will contribute (more) to us next year,” Hauck said.