By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
NOTE: Due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, MSHSAA has delayed the release of class and district assignments until after Sept. 11 when schools must declare whether they are playing fall sports in the regular fall or alternate fall. With that in mind, I will use the class assignments from last year for the pre-season power rankings.
If you liked the unpredictably of last season, get ready for more of it this fall.
Many teams are going through significant lineup changes. With the new Class alignment system, we could also see some first-time district and postseason matchups – if we can make it that far.
Before I go any further, THESE ARE NOT A HEAD-TO-HEAD RANKING, BUT A RANKING OF DOMINANCE BY CLASS. I am not saying I think the Class 1 schools on this list could beat all the Class 3-4 teams ranked below them or not ranked.
1. Glendale (Class 3) – Even the “down” seasons are still good for this program. Glendale finished .500 last year (12-12 overall), but won its eighth straight district championship. The Falcons – who started seven sophomores last year – are one of the few teams on this list who aren’t completely overhauling their lineup. The Falcons return several all-conference players and have excellent depth. After taking their lumps with a young roster in 2019, Glendale should return to its normal form this fall.
2. Greenwood (Class 1/2) – Don’t ever doubt the Blue Jays. Greenwood flew under the radar for much of last season, due in part to a 4-3 start. Greenwood retooled its lineup to go 12-1 the rest of the way and advance to the final four for the second time in four years. The Blue Jays return talent at all three levels this season, particularly in the midfield with Hugh McWay, Zach Bailey and newcomer Noah Smothers leading the way. Greenwood will likely face another hurdle this season as it moves up to Class 2 based on MSHSAA’s new Championship Factor classification system. But the Jays love the underdog role, so bet against them at your own risk.
3. New Covenant (Class 1) – With Greenwood likely moving up to Class 1, the Warriors’ postseason odds are much more favorable. The Warriors are retooling their backline a bit, with Jack Batterson and regional defensive player of the year Collin Farquhar gone, but NCA should field a formidable attack. The Warriors will get a lot of production from forwards Spencer Chevalier (11 goals, all-region) and Dake Winslow (20 goals, all-state). Winslow has led the Warriors in scoring the past three years. NCA’s schedule is stacked with Class 2, 3 and 4 teams, so the Warriors will be prepared to challenge Laquey for local Class 1 supremacy.
4. Catholic (Class 2/3) – The roster keeps turning over, but the results stay the same: victories and postseason appearances. Catholic won its third straight district title last season, and enters 2020 having to replace seven seniors who started every match. The Irish will be very young this season, with a number of underclassmen – including freshmen – likely to fill prominent roles. The sophomore class – led by returning all-conference selection Gage Vehr – will be the cornerstone of the program for the next few years. For now, Catholic’s potential move up to Class 3 won’t make things easier, but the Irish are always a consistent winner.
5. Neosho (Class 3) – Few programs have improved as much as Neosho over the last five years. The Wildcats are in the midst of a special run, having won three straight district titles and making the state final four for the first time in program history last season. The Wildcats will be a postseason contender again in 2020, led by returning regional player of the year Diego Vargas. Neosho has tremendous depth and a lot of experience. The Wildcats will be tested right away with early season games against Nixa and Ozark. Neosho will have a chance for revenge after dropping both games by a combined 10-2 margin last season.
6. Laquey (Class 1) – The Hornets have collected five district championships since 2013. They’ll go for a three-peat this fall with a new head coach (Rich Heenan) at the helm after Tyler Sevon took the same job at Camdenton. With three all-region players potentially back (forward Sam Urban, midfield Jason Young and goalkeeper Mason Shaw), the Hornets are set to reign over the Frisco League once again. Laquey doesn’t dodge anyone – non-conference games against Greenwood, Willard, Lebanon and Camdenton highlight the Hornets’ schedule.
7. Monett (Class 2) – A new era looms for the Purple and Gold. Like Catholic, Monett is also experiencing significant roster turnover. The Cubs are implementing 10 new full-time starters into their lineup. The offense, as usual, will be potent – led by the likes of Jony Perez, Eduardo Rodriguez, Soe Reh and Alejandro Garcia. Defense could determine the Cubs’ fate. Having all-region goalkeeper (and lone returning full-time starter) Joshua Patino back certainly helps. The Cubs have become one of the state’s most successful programs, winning eight straight district titles and making two final four appearances since 2012.
8. Nixa (Class 4) – Local Class 4 feels wide open this season, and Nixa might be the early favorite. The Eagles have traditionally fielded a dynamic offense, but their team strength has recently shifted to the other end of the field. Defense should lead the way for Nixa again in 2020. Led by one of the area’s top goalkeepers in senior Nick Reid, the Eagles will look to build upon a 2019 season in which they yielded only 1.1 goals per match. Nixa will need some younger players to step up on offense, but having a veteran defense will ease the learning curve.
9. Webb City (Class 3) – How about that Joplin-area soccer? Webb City is another program on the rise from that region. The Cardinals were competitive in nearly every match last season, and had wins over quality teams like Logan-Rogersville, Neosho and Carthage. The Cardinals are deep and experienced this year. A pair of all-conference returnees – midfielders David Aguilar and Tristan Barroeta – lead the way.
10. Rolla (Class 3) – It’s a changing of the guard in Bulldog Land. Hall of Fame Mike Howard has retired. Taking over is Mike Armstrong, who spent the last 14 years at Waynesville and was an assistant coach with Rolla before that. Rolla has a lot to replace, starting with its main offensive weapon in Gabe Stanislawski, who tallied 20 goals and 18 assists last season. The Bulldogs return a lone all-conference player in Quincy Williams. Rolla, a four-time defending district champion, has been a model program over the last decade. Many new names will need to step up this season for that success to continue.
Knocking on the door: Logan-Rogersville (Class 2), Willard (Class 3), Ozark (Class 4), Central (Class 4), Branson (Class 4)