By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
A lot of familiar faces are gone, but new names are ready to take over and more help is on the way.
Bulldogs soccer coach Dr. Christine Welch is excited to see how Central’s returning players mesh with a promising incoming group.
The Bulldogs must replace seven seniors in their lineup.
“Graduating that much only makes us work harder to set the new team into positions and to fill roles left by extremely unique and talented players,” Welch said.
Not all is new, however, as Central returns four players with significant varsity experience.
Junior Noe Winston (13 goals, five assists) and senior Jung So (10 goals, four assists) are Central’s top returning scorers.
“Noe will come in and make an impact,” Welch said. “He didn’t have a lot of goals last year but he was a key player alongside Jung.”
Welch described So as the “playmaker” behind Central’s seven-player senior class last year.
“He’s set to take on a leadership role for us,” Welch said.
Sophomore Sam Robertson leads Central’s defense.
“He’s a physical powerhouse and is ready to lead,” Welch said.
In the midfield, Wyatt Helm looks for a healthy senior campaign after battling injuries in prior seasons.
“We hope that he and Jung work in a cohort and connect our offense and defense,” Welch said.
Tactically, the Bulldogs could have a different look this fall. Several freshmen could see varsity playing time.
“It is our hope that by changing our system of play to fit these new players, our opportunities to succeed will increase,” Welch said.
Newcomers to watch include senior Mark DonJuan and freshman Boston Hawkins.
“Mark’s soft spoken but he’s had a major influence from our bench,” Welch said. “We’re looking at him to take a leading role on the outside on offense this season.”
Hawkins follows in the steps of older sisters Aspen (’14), Ireland (’17) and Holland. All three played for Central’s girls’ soccer team; Holland was a co-captain as a freshman last spring.
“Boston is ready to jump in quickly and play,” Hawkins said. “He’ll find his own niche and fuel the team with energy.”
Central will also gain an influx of new players from its IB program. Should they make the team, Welch said their background in club competition could help the Bulldogs fill some of their graduation gaps.
Central finished 10-14 overall a season ago. The Bulldogs, returning to the Ozark Conference for the first time in nearly 20 years, went 5-4 in league play.
Central played its best toward the end of the season.
The Bulldogs won five of their final seven matches and beat Carthage in their district opener. Central lost 3-2 to Joplin in the district title game.
Central graduated a seven-player senior class from its varsity roster. Defender Duncan Livingston, an all-region selection, leaves a big void in Central’s backline.
Also gone are: Ben Zeh, Jacob Crum (Evangel signee), Raye Hadi, Ahmed Benmakhlouf, Caleb Horsch and Noah Zahn.
“All of them were strong players with outstanding leadership,” Welch said. “We are hoping that the key bench and returning players step into those roles lost and we can lean on the handful of new club players we expect to enter in August.”
Central starts the regular season September 3 at home against Logan-Rogersville.