By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Branson Lady Pirates are coming off their best season in program history, and coach Brandon Scott has plenty to be excited about for 2022.
The Lady Pirates, who finished 16-7 overall and 3-6 in the Central Ozark Conference, set school records for wins (16) and goals scored for a season (75). Along the way, they picked up titles in the Cassville and Branson tournaments.
“We had several young players without any varsity experience that had to step up last season and we were very excited to see their growth,” said Scott, who enters his ninth season as the Branson girls’ coach. “We were able to really connect as a team and our chemistry will be a strength moving forward.”
Branson lost five players to graduation in Maya Costello, Tenley Wilkerson, Elaina Knipple, Lexi Zabel and McKenzie Furr. Costello is playing soccer at Oxford College of Emory University, while Zabel is playing at Graceland University.
“This group had some amazing leadership skills that we are going to greatly miss,” Scott said. “This was a team-first group who looked for ways each day to push their teammates and make them better people and better soccer players.”
This season, Branson returns six of its top scorers in Kloey Alms, Chole Grimm, Hadley Houston, Avery and Alyssa Marti and Briley Efrid.
“With the addition of some incoming players and other returners, we have several offensive weapons that we are excited for the various attacks we can have on the opponent’s goal,” Scott said.
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• Kloey Alms, junior, midfielder (17 goals, 11 assists) – Class 3 Region 3 team; Class 3 District 10 first team; All-COC second team. “Kloey is an attacking midfielder for us with a strong leg and great soccer IQ,” Scott said. “She is able to distribute as well as score at a very high level. Kloey was our leading scorer last season as a sophomore, and we are excited now with a varsity season under her belt, and a verbal commitment to Evangel University what Kloey will do this season offensively. Kloey is growing each day as a leader, as well as in her confidence to take the tough shots and help create opportunities for her teammates.”
• Chloe Grimm, senior, forward (16 goals, 6 assists) – All-COC second team; signed to play at Hendrix College. “Chloe Grimm is our physical forward up top; she loves to play in tough and tight spaces and through contact. She has an ability to finish in front of the goal, and she provides a very high level of energy for our team. Chloe returns after a very strong sophomore season geared to push her teammates with that contagious energy and work ethic. Chloe is looking for a breakout season as one of the area’s top returning scorers.”
• Briley Efird, junior, midfielder (6 goals, 2 assists) – Class 3 Region 3 team; Class 3 District 10 first team; All-COC honorable mention. “Briley is a very unique player who is capable of playing all over the field. She can score, distribute out of the midfield, and be a lockdown defender. She received postseason recognition last year as a defender, but I know she would excel wherever she is at on the field. Briley loves the game and is happy to work wherever her team needs her in that moment. A great team-first mentality that pushes us to the next level. We are excited for big things out of Briley this season, both offensively and defensively.”
• Hadley Houston, junior, midfielder (10 goals, 9 assists) – Class 3 District 10 first team. “A last-minute addition to our team last year, and it was a big one. Moving in and unsure if she would play, we are glad she did. Hadley provides a tough and physical presence to our team as well as double-digit goals. She has a very strong leg, and a motor that outworks most other teams. She takes on the toughest challenges each game. We are excited to see Hadley excel after a season of learning and growth and know she is going to do great things this season.”
• Avery Webber, junior, wing (10 goals, 5 assists) – Class 3 District 10 second team. “Avery is a very speedy and fundamentally sound player. She primarily played on the wing for us last season but is capable of producing goals from all over the field. She looks to factor in as a forward and midfielder as well this season. She looks to build on (last season’s) success this year in just her junior campaign.”
• Kayla Brenner, senior, defender – Class 3 District 10 second team. “Kayla took on a new role last season. Having grown up as a midfielder/forward, she filled a much-needed role last season of being a consistent and steady defender. Her new role fit her personality and style of play perfectly and even landed her on the all-district team. Kayla looks to continue that this season and anchor our defense as a steady center back this year on a defense that has a few holes to fill from graduation.”
• Ava & Allyssa Marti are two seniors who have seen varsity soccer since their freshman season. “The twins look to continue that versatility by playing all over the field. Ava, a wing/outside back, gives us some speed and leg strength on the right side of the field, and Allyssa is a solid defensive mid, with a great free kick and corner kick-taking ability for us. Allyssa scored 8 goals and added 8 assists last season. The sisters have signed to play at Avila University next year but before they do, they look to really leave their mark on Branson Soccer.”
Scott said that with so many varsity players back this spring, competition for spots and playing time will be high.
“We have a couple players who look to increase their varsity time from last season this year,” Scott said. “Sophomores Summer Pollard (forward) and Abby Decker (defender), as well as a handful of incoming freshmen – Kaylor Alms (midfielder/forward), Sadie Lampe (defender) and Abi Jones (midfielder) – look to contribute at the varsity level.”
The Lady Pirates’ biggest strength this season will be their sense of family, Scott says, because of the grind of the COC schedule.
“This is a very close-knit group who truly encourages and wants the best for each other,” Scott said. “Spring soccer is such a tough grind that this will be a vital tool for us down the stretch to keep everyone fresh and locked in. I know we are returning several of our offensive weapons, but I really look for our defense to stand out this season. They are a tough group who takes a lot of pride in what they do and over the course of the season they are going to really shine for us.”
Branson, which could hit 100 wins this season for the girls’ program, will host a jamboree on March 11 that includes Hillcrest, Fair Grove and Stover.
“This group, coming off the season where they didn’t get to play in 2020, was hungry to get after it,” Scott said. “The exciting part for them, after they had such a strong season last year, is that we have 15 players who saw varsity minutes last year returning. In that, 10 different players were regular starters last season.
“We also set a scoring record for our program last season with 75 goals and 74 of those goals scored were by players returning this year, so we have high expectations for our ability to find the back of the net. Our defense will see some new faces and some new structure to it, but everyone involved in our defensive line will have some great experience under their belts from varsity minutes last year.”