By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Aurora boys soccer team compiled a 10-11 record last fall and graduated six players.
The veteran crew ran its way to a district runner-up nod (Class 2 District 9).
Coming up just shy of a district title amped up the collective focus and internal fortitude over the course of the lengthy offseason — as the Houn’ Dawgs have their sights on a lengthy, healthy 2019.
“We have been improving every year over the past five years,” said Aurora head coach Curtis Bishop. “We have become very competitive with Monett and Catholic, but we just don’t seem to be able to get over that hump yet. But we are right there. We have more kids playing soccer right now.”
With a YMCA soccer program in town, a recreation program, and now a junior-high program, Bishop and his Houn’ Dawgs are reaping the benefits.
“We get kids acclimated to what we do, how we do things,” Bishop said.
With the local outlets throughout Aurora for young soccer players, Bishop continually churns out talent.
But, this season has a different feel to it, he said.
Said Bishop: “This group — they have the potential to be the best group I have ever had. It is just a matter of whether or not they come together as a team. We get to that point in the season, and obviously, you hope they stay as injury free as possible, to give an opportunity to keep those kids together on the field and playing.”
Back in the fold are Julius Jager (all-district), Samuel Salas (all-district), Ignacio Ortega (all-district honorable mention), and Kris Lopez (all-district honorable mention).
Gone are: Spencer Briggs (all-state Honorable Mention, first-team All-Southwest Region, first-team all-district); Jordani Perez (first-team all-conference, first-team all-district); Jairo Hedrick (all-district honorable mention); Pablo Reyes, Ryan Cline (out for season due to baseball injury and surgery; previously first-team all-district and all-conference honorable mention); and Diego Garcia (first-team All-Southwest Region, first-team All-Conference, and first-team All-District).
“We will have nine graduating this year. So, you get to this point. It’s your program, and what are you going to do with it? So, they have been working really hard this summer, getting the ball on their feet.”
With experience comes expectations, and the Dawgs are putting plenty on their plate this season, as they battle Joplin (COC) twice, Parkview, West Plains, Monett, Catholic and Logan-Rogersville.
“We are excited,” Bishop said. “We focused [over the summer] on soccer IQ, what you see and then react to that, [just] seeing the field. I think they have improved in that. This group has played together for years and have a real good idea what each other is doing, but sometimes, they don’t see the whole field, what the defense is giving them.”
Prior to the Aug. 30 season opener at Joplin, Bishop and company travel to McDonald County for the preseason jamboree, joining the host and Cassville.
The home opener is Sept. 9 against Greenwood.
“This team has the potential to be special if they work on it,” Bishop said.