By Chris Parker
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 early season power rankings.
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 4-6 teams ranked below them or not ranked.
1. Webb City (C4)
The defending Class 4 state champions are in a familiar spot atop these rankings. The Cardinals went 14-1 last year on the way to the program’s 15th state title. Three all-state players who will be three-year starters return in Devrin Weathers (RB), Gary Clinton (TE) and Zetthew Meiseter (OL). Both Weathers (Kansas State) and Clinton (Arkansas State) have committed to FBS programs. Week 1 the Cardinals travel to face Joplin in the area’s best game of the week.
2. Carthage (C5)
Carthage graduated a lot from last year’s Class 5 state championship squad, but 10 starters return. Leading that group is Class 5 Offensive Player of the Year Patrick Carlton and first-team all-state lineman Aiden Logan. Carlton’s weapons may change, but with a stout offensive line led by Logan, he can beat teams running or throwing. The defense will be anchored by returning all-state selection DJ Witt in the secondary.
3. Joplin (C6)
Joplin came up just short of bringing home southwest Missouri’s first Class 6 state title last year falling to DeSmet in the state title game. The Eagles will have to replace the production of an all-time trio of Blake Tash (QB), Isaiah Davis (RB) and Zach Westmoreland (WR). Joplin will be stout on the offensive line with Alex Curry, Sergio Pineiro and Davis Ramsey. Nathan Glades is primed for an all-state season out of the backfield. Joplin is here to stay among the area’s football powers with coach Curtis Jasper leading the way.
4. Cassville (C3)
Cassville marched to a 12-3 record last year finishing as the state runner-up in Class 3. The Wildcats have some key players to replace, but return one of the area’s top defensive players in Zach Coenen. Coenen will challenge to be one of the area’s top two-way players taking on more responsibilities at running back in addition to his linebacking duties where he was all-state last year. He has a strong line to run behind as well. The Big 8 seems like it sends a team to the Class 3 state title game each year, and Cassville has a great shot to make it two years in a row.
5. Thayer (C1)
Nobody is going to be helped more by the new classification process than Thayer. The Bobcats have won five straight district titles, but have seen their season ended by perennial state champion Valle Catholic in eight of the last 10 year. Valle Catholic will move up to Class 3 this year because of the new classification process. The Bobcats return starters all over the field. They will be without one of the top players in Class 1 Jayce Haven after he suffered a collarbone injury. His long-term status is unknown as of this writing. Thayer still will be one of the best Class 1 teams in the state without Haven, which speaks to the depth the Bobcats have.
6. Ava (C2)
Last year was a season that the Ava community will be talking about for decades. The Bears made a run to the program’s first state title game finishing runner-up with a 14-1 overall record. They graduated a senior class that went 37-4 over the past three seasons. Coach Dan Swofford has built a strong program that will still be a force even after graduating three all-state players that all played both ways. The Bears have seven players back that earned Class 2 All-Region honors.
7. Mt. Vernon (C3)
Tom Cox and the Mt. Vernon Mountaineers just keep winning. Last year was the third double-digit win season in a row for Mt. Vernon going 10-1 overall. The Mountaineers are the class of the Big 8 East until someone proves they can knock them off. A week one game with Cassville will help settle some of the hierarchy among the area’s Class 3 teams.
8. Camdenton (C4)
This ranking was tough. I have said this before, but nobody will ever convince me that Camdenton wasn’t anything but the second best team in Class 4 last year. The Lakers lost 11 all-conference players from last year’s team including their all-state, Class 4 Offensive Player of the Year quarterback Paxton DeLaurent. There is still talent returning, but Camdenton will only go as far as the new quarterback orchestrating the aerial attack carries them.
9. Bolivar (C4)
Bolivar was very tough to gauge throughout the regular season last year. The Liberators marched through an unbeaten regular season against teams from all over the state. In the post-season, the Liberators proved their mettle beating Hillcrest 73-0 and West Plains 36-21 before falling 37-14 to Webb City in the district title game to finish 11-1 overall. The 23-point margin was Webb City’s smallest margin of victory through the playoffs. Bolivar enters the Ozark Conference this year having to replace many key players, but I still think the Liberators have enough to compete right away.
10. Lamar (C2)
Lamar wasn’t the area’s top Class 2 team last year for the first time in a long time. Even a ‘down year’ by Lamar’s standards still ended in a 10-3 season and a district championship. Jared Beshore takes over for coaching legend Scott Bailey this year. Don’t expect much to change under Beshore, as the Lamar graduate is well versed in what it takes to have success on the football field.
OTHERS: West Plains (C4), Monett (C3), Skyline (C1), Lebanon (C4), Lincoln (C1)