Last year, Cassville soccer fans had a lot to cheer about. Another great regular season was added to the Wildcats' mantle and things looked good for districts and a possible return to state, but things did not turn out the way Cassville had planned.
The Wildcats lost their opening game of the district tournament to Willard 1-0. The team ended the year with an impressive 16-6-2 record.
Cassville hopes this year will be different and has a lot of talent to back those hopes up.
The Wildcats bring back one of the premiere players in Class 2 soccer in senior striker Ryan Schlichtman. As a junior, Schlichtman was a second team All-State selection after an outstanding season that saw him score 30 goals in his new role as forward. Schlichtman was also a first team All-District, All-Ozarks and All-Region selection.
Starting next to Schlicht-man might be Cassville's next All-Stater, Uziel Franco, a junior. Franco and Schlichtman will keep opposing defenses busy with their excellent dribbling and scoring abilities. As a sophomore, Franco was an All-District honorable mention choice.
Cassville's midfield is also packed with talent this fall. Junior Aaron Jamieson, a first team All-District and All-Region selection last year, leads the group and is Cassville's all-time assists leader. He will be joined by returning lettermen Ross Delossantos and Matt Angel, both sophomores.
Others who could see action at midfield this season are junior Omar Valenzuela, senior Colt Beck and sophomore Bryan Schroeder.
In Cassville's backfield, the team will rely on juniors Luis Ortega and Corey Wilbanks, both returning starters. Senior Anthony Larson will handle goalkeeping duties for the 'Cats in his second year between the pipes. Also looking to get in on the action is senior Dale Henbest.
Other players on this season's soccer roster include: seniors Matt Hagan and Alfonso Miranda; juniors Zac Coleman and Kurt Baker; sophomores Gabby Vincent, Jesus Rivera, Caleb Wilbanks, Justin Mills, Colby Reavis and Josh Dyer; and freshmen Christian Orozco, Jeff Munday, Jordan Bailey, B.J. McGuffy and Janine Donnell.
During preseason practices, new Head Coach Brian Wilbanks, who has previously served as the team's assistant coach, has been focusing on shoring up Cassville's defense that was depleted by the graduation of Nate Evans and Chris Born.
"We are bringing back one of the best offenses in the district so developing defense will be our biggest challenge," said Wilbanks.
Cassville will again face a tough road to state.
"Our district is one of the toughest in the state," said Wilbanks. "If we are healthy and in shape, we will be one of the teams to beat."
Cassville's toughest competition this year could be Carl Junction. The Bulldogs have a lot of talent and could make a run at the district championship. Other top teams in the district include Monett, Webb City and West Plains, last year's district champs who went on to finish third at state.
The Wildcats will begin their season this Thursday at the Cassville High School soccer field when they host rival Monett. The varsity game begins at 4:30 p.m. The 'Cats will also host Columbus, Kan., on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
In addition to this being Brian Wilbanks' first year as head soccer coach, the Wildcats have another new staffer. Brandon Allee, son of Jeff and Sherri Allee, of Cassville, will assist Coach Wilbanks this year on the sidelines.