By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Kickapoo Chiefs are looking to bounce back from a sub-.500 2019 season, and will have to find a way to do that with the loss of a large senior class.
Gone from last year’s team, which finished 10-14 overall and 7-2 in the Ozark Conference, include Luke Boyd, a Class 4 Region 3 selection, Class 4 District 10 and All-Ozark Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Year; Aiden Pezzani, all-district and All-OC First Team; Joey Cockell, All-OC Second Team; Carson Shore, all-district second team, All-OC Honorable Mention; Caden Wehner, All-OC Honorable Mention; Aidan Bilbao, who is continuing his career at Truman State University; Matthew Griesemer; Cooper Hitfless; Colton Crawford and Joey Morris.
Coach Phil Hodge, who enters his 14th season at Kickapoo with a combined boys’ and girls’ record of 414-229-9, says consistency is the challenge heading into this season.
“We have to be more consistent every day; not just pick and choose when we are going to be competitive,” Hodge said. “Our program is at a good point right now with our numbers, and we need to be able to compete every day to make each player better day in and day out.”
The Chiefs, who last won back-to-back district championships in 2016 and 2017, fell short of a third-straight title with a 1-0 loss to Ozark in the final in 2018, and lost 2-1 in double overtime to Central in the semifinal round of the Class 4 District 10 tournament last season.
They return an experienced group, which brings the leadership needed to make another run at a district title.
• Luke Courtney, junior, defender – An all-district and all-conference second-team selection. “A quick, strong center back.”
• Spencer Sharpe, senior, defender – An all-conference second-team pick. “Has been a solid leader for us this summer, and might be more involved in getting forward for us this fall.”
• Landon Keisker, sophomore, forward – All-conference honorable mention. “A very crafty, creative player that can create his own scoring chances. I hope to have Landon score some goals for us this fall.”
• Grayson McClure, senior, midfielder – “An outside-mid that has the ability to set up scoring chances for his teammates.”
Hodge said the Chiefs’ strength is their versatility and their numbers.
“We have several guys that can contribute at several different positions on the field,” Hodge said. “We have been consistently around 40 in the summer. We will have to compete day in and day out for a spot.”
And, some of those players who will be competing for playing time include:
• Landon Howard, senior, forward – “A forward who has the ability to put his head down and get to goal.”
• Connor Selsor, senior, midfielder – “Connor has a great soccer IQ and the ability to make those around him better.”
• Gavin Ellsworth, senior, defender
• Matthew Williams, senior, defender
• Tyler Selsor, senior, forward
• Tate Reed, senior, midfielder
• Zach Clark, junior, defender
• Nick McDiarmid, junior, midfielder
• Dawson Sozio, junior, goalkeeper
• Owen Bowler, junior, midfielder
• Noah Marsh, sophomore, midfielder
“The sophomore class has several guys showing well,” Hodge said. “They will help compete for some spots.”
And, even with the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, Kickapoo’s approach hasn’t changed.
“(We’re preparing) the same as we do every season,” Hodge said. “We cannot control what happens with COVID. We are preparing like we will have a season.”