Wildcats emerge from the shadows
Cassville soccer locked, loaded, ready to shine
The Cassville soccer team has rebuilt, retooled and reloaded, and the Wildcats are looking to take the next step and emerge as a power in the Big 8 Conference.
The Wildcats return nine starters for a 6-18 team that allowed its youth to experience growing pains.
“Last year, we started six freshmen during most games, with two of our key reserves also being freshmen,” said Jake Forste, Cassville coach. “Although we went 6-18, we played a lot of close, competitive games with a young bunch. I liked the fighting spirit of last year’s team. Any time you field such a young group, you know you’re gonna go through some growing pains, and we endured our fair share.
“But, ultimately, we played with pride and played the game the right way, and we said from day one ‘our youth will not be an excuse.’ We improved tremendously as the season progressed, and that momentum has carried into the offseason. Defensively, we have what it takes to compete in the conference and district. Our biggest focus is creating more chances, earning set pieces and finishing with precision.”
Nearly every coach, when asked about their team before the season, will talk positively about expectations.
Forste knows his ‘Cats, and he believes that this is their year and could be the beginning of a soccer revolution in Cassville.
“We feel good about our group coming into the fall,” he said. “We will have 30-plus boys on the roster for the first time in my five-year tenure, which just feels awesome. Our community has worked hard at the lower grade levels by establishing U8, U10, U12, and U15 [teams with Seven Valleys Soccer Club], and this will be the second year we’ve had those club kids enter as freshmen, so we’ve averaged 13 freshmen for the last two years.
“We played some tight matches in the conference last year, often entering halftime 0-0, only to give up some late goals. Having only lost two starters and gained over a dozen new guys, we feel like we can flip the script on those games and climb the conference standings. Health will be a big factor, but with a deep bench, I think we will be more resilient to injury than we have been in years past.”
Cassville has shored up its defense with Peter Littlefield in goal. Last season, he earned All-Conference and All-District honors as a freshman.
“Pete was incredible last season,” Forste said. “His ability to stop shots was unprecedented, as he set our school record with 259 saves, [almost 11 saves per game]. He is long and rangy [at 6-5], knows the game and consistently puts
himself in the right spot. He will be one of the top goalkeepers in southwest Missouri this year.
“From a growth perspective, Pete has all the talent you could hope for. Our primary focus is encouraging him to take on more of a leadership role. He stepped in last year and started every game, but vocally, I think he deferred to some of the older guys. I want him to keep his defense organized and talk to his back line for 80 straight minutes. He is a willing leader and is making strides daily. His potential between the sticks is limitless.”
The Wildcats will rely on the combo of Dylan Renkoski, Carson Whittemire and Dylan Berndt in its defensive area this season.
“We are strong in the back, and I feel good about this group,” Forste said. “These guys really shined as last year’s season progressed [and they were all in new roles last year]. Having that extra year of growth will only benefit them more. Last year, we had new players in all 11 spots on the field — it takes time to build that chemistry. Ultimately, we found it, and we have only continued to build on it as a group. Whit, Dylan, and Ren have all taken big strides and will continue to lead the team from the backfield.
“Incoming senior Russell Dunker is our other full-time defender, and he has become a great back in his own right. We also return senior Camron Sloan from his year of studying abroad in France. He was our team’s Newcomer of the Year in 2018. Getting Sloan back has been a big boost for us. He’s always been a hard worker, but now, he has the touch and vision to match. I think he’s in for a big season.”
Forste believes he has a dynamic duo to apply pressure at the forward position this year.
“We are turning to sophomores Reese Heiden and Edgar Perez at forward this season,” Forste said. “Both of these guys spent a lot of time as the second forwards last year, rotating alongside Michael Sommers [2020 graduate who scored 13 goals]. They have progressed with their skills, fitness, and vocality and are shaping up to be a dynamic duo.”
The midfield is still a bit unsettled for the Wildcats, but it is because the team has too many bodies and not enough open positions.
“We have played around with the midfield this summer and have the roster flexibility to adjust based on matchups,” Forste said. “Ivan Perez is a key piece as an attacking midfielder for us. He has a lot of creativity and is dangerous in open space. Out wide, we will feature junior Josh Case, who has been our most improved player this offseason. Our bench will be the deepest in my five years here, and we have some real battles at the other midfield spots. I think we will have seven or eight guys playing starter minutes in the midfield, allowing us to maintain fresh legs and have some resilience there in the event of an injury or prolonged illness or quarantine.
“The rest of our midfield is junior Eli Leach, sophomore Nic Sanders, junior Jonathan Oliphant, and senior David Oliphant. Senior Zane Mebruer is working his way back from a foot injury and will battle it out with that group, as well.”
Forste has set team goals that, if achieved, could produce a special season.
“Defensively, I think winning clubs should expect to allow less than two goals per game, and last year, we let in 2.70 with a pretty young group,” Forste said. “We weren’t too far off the mark in this regard, but only scoring 0.75 goals per game made it tough to scratch out some wins in tight games. So, we know our emphasis in 2020 is creating goal-scoring chances. We’ve worked pretty tirelessly in this regard, and I can’t wait to see the results this fall.”
Cassville opens the 2020 season with its home tournament on Sept. 1.