By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
If the offense catches up to the defense, the Republic Tigers could quickly return to being a contender in the stacked Central Ozark Conference.
The soccer Tigers return most of their lineup from a year ago. Republic is again strong defensively.
Junior Drake Lightfoot is back as the team’s starting goalkeeper. He tallied 113 total saves, two shutouts and earned first team all-conference honors as a sophomore.
Returning in Republic’s backline are seniors Kalem Murray, Noah Tattershall and Luke Willis, along with junior Markus Mitchell. Murray was second team all-conference.
“We were a good defending team last year and I believe we have the ability to be even better this year,” said Republic coach Kevin Hauck. “Defense will be our key and strength. Having Lightfoot in goal gives us an advantage.”
Senior Philip Mason and junior Marco Donjuan lead Republic’s attack.
Mason, a midfielder, finished with five goals and one assist last season. Donjuan (10 goals) was Republic’s top scorer despite missing half the season with an injury. He also tallied 11 goals as a freshman.
Also back on the offensive end are senior midfielder Josh Gallardo (one goal, two assists), junior forward Will Fronabarger (two goals, two assists) and junior forward Jabali Wanekaya (one goal, one assist).
The Tigers prioritized their offense during the offseason, Hauck said.
“We really worked on attacking and team possession. We’re eager to see how that translates into game play,” Hauck said. “In practice, I see big strides being made for us. I believe we have improved in those areas going into the season. I’m excited for us to get the chance to show it on the field.”
Republic brings back a pair of midfielders with varsity experience in seniors Luke McDonnell and John Butcher. Butcher is also Republic’s backup goalkeeper.
The Tigers look to bounce back this fall after finishing 6-16 overall last season.
Republic graduated a six-player senior class from that team: defender/midfielder Jackson McGuire (five goals, three assists), defenders Brendon Roberts and Braden Judson, and midfielders Holden Kendrick, Isaac Jordan and Nathan Stalnaker.
It was Republic’s first losing season under Hauck, who took over the boys’ program in 2016. In 2017, he coached the Tigers to the program’s first-ever final four appearance.
Like all teams, Republic had a shortened offseason due to COVID-19.
The Tigers finally got their full offseason program going over the summer.
“We were able to open up at the beginning of June and work on a bunch of technical skills (passing, shooting) and conditioning,” Hauck said. “At the end of June and beginning of July, we were able to open up and have full scrimmages and team meetings.
“We’ve installed our formation going into the season and worked on team skills. We will have played three practice games by the end of the summer. This will give us a good chance to see where we are and where we need to go.”
New names contending for varsity playing time include seniors Scott Parker and Cole Wells, sophomores Ethan Meyer and Gage Fisher and freshman Brayden Tharp.
“Parker will look to get some time in a defensive role,” Hauck said. “He’s a quick player who started late in his high school career but is picking it up fast.
“Wells gives us good depth. He had a strong year on the JV and is looking to do that on varsity this season.”
Fisher, Meyer and Tharp give Republic options for the present and future.
“(Fisher) could push for a spot on the varsity this year,” Hauck said. “(Meyer) had limited time on the varsity last year and will push for a starting spot on varsity this year. He’s a determined player with big potential.
“(Tharp) brings some depth to our midfield. He can read the game well and has great touch and feel.”
Republic hosts a jamboree on Aug. 21 with Ozark, Parkview and Springfield Catholic. Republic opens the regular season Aug. 28 at Waynesville.