By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Branson Lady Pirates experienced several highlights during the 2018 season.
The Lady Pirates tied their school record for wins in a season (13), in addition to record-setting campaigns by individual players.
And, heading into 2019, the squad is aiming to get back to a district championship game, after getting a taste in 2017, before falling to Nixa in the Class 4 District 11 final.
“We were hoping to get back into the district championship last year, but we fell to a very good Republic team and were not able to reach our big team goal last season,” Branson head coach Brandon Scott said. “Along the way, we marked off most of our team goals, so we see that as an overall successful season.”
The Lady Pirates, who finished 13-12 overall and 4-5 in the Central Ozark Conference, lose eight players to graduation from last year’s team, led by McKenzie Duncan and Lauren Garrison.
Duncan, a midfielder/forward, was Branson’s first Class 4 All-State player as an Honorable Mention selection. She also was named to the Class 4 All-Region 3, Class 4 All-District 11 and All-COC teams. Duncan, who owns Branson records in goals scored (70) and assists (33), currently sits tied for 21st for goals scored in a game (6) in Missouri high school history. She is playing soccer at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
Garrison, a goalkeeper, was an all-region, all-district and all-conference selection. She holds school records in saves (608) and shutouts (36) and is tied for 13th for saves in a game (27) in Missouri. Garrison is playing basketball for Rockhurst University.
Also lost to graduation are: Alexis Ramirez, Grace Bartell, Isabel Holloway, Sam Pichardo, Cierra Groover and Bailey Barber.
“Several of our graduates played varsity since their freshman year, so we will be losing a lot of experience and leadership on the field,” Scott said. “We will be losing a four-year starter in the goal, as well as a combined 70 percent of our goals scored and three of our four starting defenders from last season.”
Scott will be looking to his returning players, who started varsity games on a regular basis, to provide leadership and experience for the Lady Pirates this season.
• Molly Duncan, sophomore midfielder/forward, scored 10 goals last season as a freshman. She earned all-district and all-COC honors.
• Chloe Lampe, junior defender, all-district
• Brooke Hunn, senior midfielder/forward, all-district
• Madelyn Fields, senior forward, all-district
Players whom Scott thinks will make an impact this season include: Katie Jaeger, Grace Dean, Katelund Mann and Elaina Knipple.
“Katie (junior forward) is not really a newcomer, but we are looking for her to step into a more full-time role as an attacker for us,” Scott said. “She started a few games last year as a sophomore, but will now have the opportunity to lead us up top.”
Dean, a junior goalkeeper, was able to get some good reps in goal last season.
“We are really excited for Grace to get a full season in the goal,” Scott said. “She has worked really hard and I believe is ready to anchor our defense at goalie this year. (She is) very smart in her positioning and has great hands and agility in the goal.”
Mann and Knipple, sophomore defenders, also had opportunities to see varsity action last season.
“(They) have put in some really hard work over the offseason to be ready for their opportunities this year,” Scott said. “I believe they will be two big pieces of our defense going forward this season.”
Other newcomers include: Maggie Bartell, junior forward/midfielder; Sara Weisman, sophomore forward; Tenley Wilkerson, sophomore defender; and Lexi Zabel, sophomore midfielder.
“We also have a very solid group of freshmen this year who are eager to come in and contribute right away,” Scott said. “There is a lot of club experience in our freshman class, which help them make that jump to the varsity level quicker. So, we are excited for what they are going to bring to the table for us this season.”
The Lady Pirates will have some growing pains, at least at the beginning of the season, with their youth and trying to fill the holes left by the Class of 2018. But, Scott is confident that the newcomers and returnees will be able to overcome those challenges together.
“We have several players returning up top with lots of speed,” Scott said. “We hope our depth and speed up top will be able to allow us to wear down defenses throughout the season. Our defensive line and goalie will all be new this year, minus one returning starter from last season. So, as the season progresses, we know our defense will only get stronger and more confident as they play together more.”