For Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
It’s not often a head coach leaves on the heels of a district championship.
But that is exactly the life of the Rolla Bulldogs boys’ soccer team, as Hall of Fame head coach Mike Howard retired.
Howard went out with more than 700 wins.
Enter Mike Armstrong — who previously spent 14 years at Waynesville — begins his first campaign with the Bulldogs.
The seven-time conference champions are ready to hit the turf running — COVID or not.
“We kind of have to wait and see [for season]. We have to be cautious,” said Armstrong. “Make sure we don’t get into too large of groups.”
Armstrong is familiar with Rolla — as the veteran coach spent three years with the Bulldogs in different capacities, ending after the 2006 season.
The team went 17-8-1 last year en route to a Class 3, District 8 championship, prior to falling 2-1 to St. Dominic at sectionals.
With so many players seeing the field last season, Armstrong said it is a tough task to put a concrete number on returning starters.
The team returns five seniors this season, but graduated its offensive catalyst last season in Gabe Stanislawski, who netted 20 goals and 18 assists.
“I had some guys like that at Waynesville. You can’t replace them with just one guy,” said Armstrong. “You just have to learn to do things differently.”
Also gone are Evan Moore (22 goals and 12 assists), and Mohamad Alamaldein (16 goals and six assists).
The Bulldogs graduated four lettermen from last year’s team, but one letterman making his return is senior midfielder, Quincy Cummings.
Cummings joins a solid, experienced core in Lane Mabe (senior forward), Zach Pendleton (senior midfield), Carlos Guzman (senior defender), Noah Hatfield (junior midfielder), and senior forward/midfield, Jack Gesualdi.
“They seem to be leading and organizing everything,” Armstrong said of the aforementioned players.
Coming from Waynesville, Armstrong is more than familiar with the Bulldogs’ landscape, which is giving both he and the team a leg up on the season.
“It doesn’t feel like a new job. Soccer in the Ozark Conference is the same, no matter which colors you are wearing,” added Armstrong. “You know who you have to watch out for.”
While the offseason has been something of an oddity for all sports programs, the numbers have been positive, Armstrong said.
To date, 42 players have taken part.
“Some of them are new, some are freshmen,” said Armstrong.
Back in the box this season is sophomore Ben Fisher, who split time at keeper one year ago.
In 2019, Fisher amassed approximately 240 minutes while and allowing one goal.
The home opener is Sept. 16 against Jefferson City.
Players to watch:
Amari Terrel, sophomore, midfield; Ben Fisher, sophomore, goalkeeper; Caden Martens, sophomore, defense; Chance Duncan, 10, forward; Ali Amusafir, 10, defense; and Cameron Cooper, freshman, midfield.